B.C. Announces Major Support for Transit

The government of British Columbia has announced funding for major expansion of transit especially in the Greater Vancouver area. This was covered in yesterday’s Globe & Mail and the full details are available on the government’s site.

There is a glossy brochure (4MB) with maps and other info.

Looking at all this, I am reminded of Move Ontario and similar announcements. They look great on paper, but there are problems in the details. As with so many plans, this one depends on money from various levels of government. The total is $14-billion, but it comes from:

  • $2.9-billion in existing commitments
  • $4.75-billion in new money from the province
  • $3.1-billion from Ottawa
  • $2.75-billion from Translink (the Vancouver equivalent of Metrolinx)
  • $500-million from local governments

The major components of the announcement are:

  • The Canada Line (now under construction) linking the airport and Richmond to downtown.
  • The UBC (University of British Columbia) Line which will serve the heavy crosstown Broadway corridor and run into the UBC campus where there is already a large bus and trolleybus terminal.
  • The Expo Line (the original SkyTrain) will be extended and will receive additional cars to boost capacity.
  • The Evergreen LRT Line will connect Coquitlam Centre to Lougheed Town Centre SkyTrain station
  • A network of rapid bus routes will provide BRT service primarily in outlying areas.
  • 1,500 new “clean buses” of various technologies will green the fleet.

Like the Canada Line, a good chunk of the UBC Line will likely be underground as an elevated down the middle of Broadway would not do wonders for the character of the street with stations posing a particular problem. Unlike existing SkyTrain routes, the UBC Line runs along a main street rather than through back lanes, industrial districts and railway corridors.

The Evergreen line is the odd-man-out in this plan as the only true LRT line. Support and funding for the line has been slow to come, and I would not be surprised to see it fall victim either to funding constraints or to a change of heart in the interest of standardizing rapid transit technology.

The clean bus plan involves hydrogen, hybrid, electric, natural gas and low emmision diesel options. The announcement is rather vague on the actual mix, and one only learns that these technologies are under consideration in the glossy. The hydrogen bus project is a rather sad reminder of the dreams for Ballard fuel cell technology. The company itself has decided to get out of the vehicle market and concentrate on smaller stationary plants such as emergency power supplies, but dreams of large-scale fuel cell applications die hard.

When the 20 hydrogen buses arrive in 2008, BC claims it will have the largest fleet of such vehicles in the world. At a cost of $89-million, that’s an expensive demonstration.

Notable as part of a rapid transit announcement are plans to improve bus services. This is a welcome change from the capital rich, capacity poor, transit announcements so popular in Toronto for decades.

As for fare collection, BC will move completely to Smart Cards which will include on-the-spot fines for scofflaws.

Probably the saddest part of this announcement is a chart showing the hoped-for market share by transit (page 5 in the brochure). By 2020, Vancouver will move up from 12% to 17%, and then to 22% by 2030. Percentages are lower in other parts of the province. I can’t help wondering what that other 78% of the trips will be, and why they won’t be on transit.

All-in-all, there may be good times for transit planners, builders and riders on the west coast. Tactically, an important role for such announcements (like Transit City) is to have something on the table. Someday, someone may want to get elected, and they may want to spread some money around. We hear that times are tight in Ottawa, but strange things happen in elections.

If there are enough plans from enough cities looking for funding, this may scare off the Feds, but alternately it makes the basis for a truly national transit investment program. We can dream.

42 thoughts on “B.C. Announces Major Support for Transit

  1. I appreciate the detailed answer.

    However, in terms of what you are saying about service into downtown Vancouver – at least from the East – access isn’t constrained by the False Creek bridges. From the East, you would likely get on the Skytrain line.

    From the West, you might use the Broadway bus and transfer to the Granville bus. I checked the example of UBC to Robson on Translink’s route planner. Taking the Broadway route was practically identical to taking the bus on 4th and the the 22 onto Burrard. The non-Broadway routing has one less transfer.

    Only from Oak (e.g. VGH) do you do a Broadway jog West to get to the Granville St. Bridge.

    So I don’t see the geography being a real driver. Broadway is a more commercial street than say King Edward – this translates into ridership. It also seems to have a limited stop/express service – which also helps attract riders.

    Here in TO, many routes do funnel to Eglington – not just the Lawrence East – but also the 100.

    I’m not sure how applicable your theory of natural corridors is in a city build on a grid. Most trips involve a transfer. Am I taking an ‘unnatural’ route by going up to the subway from my neighbourhood to get downtown? Which is more natural – going West then North – or North then West?

    Assuming at some point Toronto begins to attract commercial entities to locate in the city, we’re going to need more rapid transit capacity into downtown. I see this is more important than – as an example – the planned light rail line along Finch. There is little in the way of major commercial along most of this route.


  2. The problem with the ALRT (that the Vancouverites and the Provincial government are so fond of) is that they quickly become overcrowded. Lille and Toulouse (France) are 2 cities with an ALRT as their rapid transit system. In both towns the ALRT run underground in the downtown area. These 2 towns each have now a population of around 1 million people and at rush hour one has to wait for several trains. In 25 years it will be a mess. London and Paris built subways similar to full scale trains (capacity wise) at a time when the number of people likely to use these new fangled underground railways was very limited. Thank God for their foresight or plain dumb luck!.

    Unfortunately in Vancouver there is a strong prejudice against public transit, mainly born of ignorance, as many locals have never seen and used transit in one form or another and are proud of it. I was born in Europe and have friends in both Paris and Osaka (Japan). They have cars but don’t use them during the week to go to work and shop. In both places the majority of people use public transit.

    To call Broadway Avenue in Vancouver “pedestrian oriented” as one poster wrote is rather funny!. To me pedestrian oriented means a street with no cars at all, as found in many towns around the world (including London, Paris, Lille, Toulouse, Osaka etc…)


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