Metro Vancouver transit: fastest growth in North America in 2017

A detail from a 2016 Council of Mayors plan showing transit improvement priorities

TransLink’s service levels are increasing rapidly, and a new funding plan should allow continued expansion — for a while.

The Metro Vancouver transit authority’s latest performance report, published on June 21, shows that with added service, boardings across the system — bus, SeaBus, and SkyTrain — increased by 5.7 per cent through 2017 to a record 407 million. This was the biggest jump in ridership among major urban areas in North America (see the chart at the bottom of this post.)

Transit service has reached into new areas, and people are responding, especially with the opening of the Evergreen extension of the Millennium line to central Coquitlam. There was a 5% increase in Metro Vancouver bus service hours in 2017, and a 17 per cent increase in SkyTrain service hours.

And after a 10-week delay following approval in principle, the council of transit mayors voted on June 28 to fund further improvements to bus service, upgrades to transit stations, and new rapid transit construction. As I wrote here in April 2018, the money is to come from fare increases, property taxes and development cost charges, and increased revenue from higher transit ridership.

Canada Line at Yaletown, 2014

The structure, however, is fragile. The Government of B.C. announced on June 28 that it will fund its share of transit through a 1.5-cent increase in the regional fuel tax. This is a politically risky move. Metro Vancouver already has the highest fuel taxes in Canada [sez Wikipedia] at 45 cents per litre. 17 cents of that is dedicated to transit, but the people who drive the furthest — those in the deep suburbs — are least likely to have access to frequent transit.

Suburban voters in Ontario recently elected a provincial party that promises to cut fuel taxes by 10 cents. The next B.C. government — which could land on us in 2019 — may decide to reduce fuel taxes and transit funding in a populist appeal to motorists.

The funding trend in the United States is certainly clear. CityLab reports that transit ridership declined in 31 out of 35 US urban areas in 2017 primarily because public agencies are cutting service and there are fewer buses to ride.

CityLab holds up Seattle as “America’s bus-lovingest town,” where the public transit budget is actually increasing. Seattle added 700,000 new bus trips to its total from 2016 to 2017. TransLink added something like four million additional bus trips over the same period (TransLink’s reporting, it should be said, is often difficult to read.)

In Toronto, meanwhile, transit system revenues are forecast to drop slightly in 2018. Combined rapid transit and bus ridership has been flat in that region since 2014.

Even in a position of leadership, however, TransLink faces continued criticism from passengers and politicians who want even more service.

In the City of Vancouver and the inner suburbs, bus overcrowding is an ongoing problem. Route 99 from Broadway to UBC is overcrowded more than 30 per cent of the time. The 25 and the 49, also linked to UBC, are overcrowded almost 20 per cent of the time. Bus route 100, which runs along Marine Way from New West to the Arthur Laing Bridge, is as bad as the 49.

Some of the cash that could be used to relieve that overcrowding is going to support lightly used routes in the deep suburbs. In Maple Ridge, for example, Mayor Nicole Read has often complained that her community is poorly served, and voted against the June 28 funding package. As it happens, three of the eight most inefficient bus routes in the region serve Maple Ridge. Route 99 to UBC carried passengers in 2017 at a cost of $0.79 per head; the 741, which serves Mayor Read’s neighbourhood, came in at $11.58 per head.

The 2017 winners in the Metro Vancouver inefficiency contest, by the way, were the 259, bringing occasional passengers from affluent Lions Bay to an exchange in Horseshoe Bay at a cost of $17.44 per head; and the 609, a shuttle running from the Tsawwassen First Nation to a nearby bus exchange at a cost of $21.92 per head.

This is the cost of operating a big system in a politically fragmented region. Negativism aside, we can look forward to some interesting developments in 2018-19, including the start of express bus service from — well, well — Maple Ridge, as well as accelerated progress on rapid transit in Surrey and Vancouver. Let’s spend until the money runs out.

This chart copied from StreetsblogUSA.


Trouble in Brookswood


Brookswood, a classic 1950s subdivision in the Township of Langley, has been locked for years in a dispute over the pace of development. It sits just minutes from malls and highways, but it has a deep country feel.

In late 2017, on the third try in four years, Township Council approved a plan that contemplates significant population growth in the Brookswood-Fernridge planning area. From fewer than 14,000 residents, the population is supposed to grow to 39,000 when projected development is complete. In percentage terms, Langley is growing faster than any other major municipality in Greater Vancouver, and it needs land for medium-density housing. The question here is whether the preservation of an old, sprawling suburb might be justified because of its special character.

Co-tourist Bob Smarz and I walked around part of the planning area on a recent Saturday morning. Starting at the George Preston Recreation Centre north of 42nd Avenue, we went for coffee on the main commercial strip, found a scenic pathway to 32nd Avenue, and returned to the car along semi-rural roads and residential streets.

We saw private lakes with no public access, and neighbours chatting on the big front lawns. It seems certain that some residents have been here from the start, around 1960. They clearly have reason to feel protective about their peace and quiet. There is some development, as older houses crumble and are replaced by bigger and fancier structures, but there is no densification.

(“Who’s going to want to care for these big properties?” Bob asked. We saw a woman in shorts, mid-40s, standing on a garage roof with an implement in her hand. “Immigrants,” I said. “Anyone with a work ethic.”)

Brookswood Pond, an old quarry property near the proposed new townhouse zone

The new plan covers 15 square kilometres of Langley, much of it agricultural or woodland. It replaces a 1987 version that also forecast rapid population growth, with a tilt to apartment living. The old plan appears to have limited impact, except perhaps on some of the shopping centre development. As of the adoption of the new plan, only 1 per cent of the dwellings in the area were classified as apartments, with mobile homes making up 14 per cent of the housing stock and detached homes 85 per cent.

One controversial part of the 2017 plan designates a wooded zone north of 32nd Avenue for townhouse and commercial development. Bob and I tried to walk from the existing shopping area to the future residential core, but the sidewalk simply dies away. We stepped away from busy 200th Street to a more pleasant woodland trail.

Commercial village reduced

The commercial strip on 200th Street south of 42nd Avenue, showing a slight tinge of alpine resort

sidewalk reduced

South on 200th Street, the sidewalk leading to the future medium-density residential area shrinks to a sub-minimum width, and then disappears altogether.








Abandoned property, c. 1945, awaiting redevelopment



Momentum Real Estate Group

We were unable to photograph Sunrise Lake. Access is private. This image is from the Momentum Real Estate Group. is dedicated to the growth of urban villages with housing choice, access to transit, and services concentrated in walkable village cores. The properties in Brookswood are pleasant, but housing choice is lacking. Transit coverage is partial, leaving, leaving kids and seniors stranded in some locations. The range of local services is modest.

Even so, I sympathize with the “leave us alone” attitude of residents who have succeeded to this high ground. The Township of Langley has not done well in facilitating complete communities or walkability, despite the reference to these objectives in the 2017 Brookswood plan. New townhome and apartment development on 32nd Avenue will bring more traffic, with limited benefit to the local community in terms of added services.

[This is post #39 in our Urban Villages series.]


Family incomes in Metro Vancouver

Yaletown, 2017

Statistics Canada has added new community profiles to its website based on the 2016 census. These include income measures the federal Conservative government axed from the 2011 census — possibly because open up a discussion about economic inequality.

Within Metro Vancouver, the highest median family income, in North Vancouver District, is 50 per cent higher than in Richmond, which has the lowest family and individual incomes and the biggest low-income population (“federal Low-income measure, after tax”). Continue reading

Riding Vancouver’s fast train to nowhere

Adam Fitch’s rapid transit map. His LRT line idea is shown with a cord painted green, from a proposed new Emily Carr SkyTrain station in east False Creek to UBC. The red line, with marked stations, traces TransLink’s SkyTrain route plan as of about 2012. In the real world, stations from Arbutus are to go into service before 2025; stations west of Arbutus have been delayed indefinitely.

My thanks to Kamloops-based planner Adam Fitch. He invited me to join him on a May 4 “Jane’s Walk” to consider a cheaper alternative to the Broadway Extension rapid transit project.

Fitch’s proposal would take advantage of a corridor owned by the City of Vancouver, and would avoid most of the tunneling costs associated with the Broadway scheme. It’s an entertaining concept, but it won’t get built, largely because it won’t take people where they want to go. Continue reading

Funding for Metro Vancouver transit: are we there yet?

Surrey Central SkyTrain station

Over the past 20 years, British Columbia and local governments have failed to agree on a long-term transit funding formula for Metro Vancouver.

The regional transit authority (TransLink) sits in a governmental neutral zone, neither provincial nor local, and it suffers for a lack of political champions. Continue reading

Your own pond at New Westminster Quay

Fountain and pond south of Quayside Drive, New Westminster

With its Riverfront Vision, the City of New Westminster is building a zone that will attract visitors from around the region, in the same way that Fort Langley and White Rock have become local destinations.

30 years after the establishment of the high-density Quayside neighbourhood, tower construction continues near the public market.

This marks a new push in a 30-year-old program to transform the city’s trackside industrial waterfront. The market building at New Westminster Quay was constructed in the 1980s, on a public market model that has failed in many places (Surrey, Calgary, Robson Street in Vancouver). The Quay struggled for many years, but the residential densification of New West’s downtown has brought new customers, along with the conversion of part of the market building to office and meeting space. Continue reading

Apartment development in Surrey: crowdfunding as a doorway to home ownership

Tower construction seen from alongside the proposed new development on 104 Avenue, Surrey

I recently joined our friend David Plug on a real estate investors’ bus tour around Surrey Central. The tour’s purpose was to encourage passengers to commit at least $25,000 in financing for a proposed apartment housing complex.

With a large number of smallish investments, the development company hopes to raise at least $7.5 million, a big chunk of the estimated $13.5 million cost of purchasing land. The project prospectus lays out three scenarios. In the minimum scenario, under present City of Surrey zoning, the builders would construct 210 units in a 6-storey wood-frame complex; with revised zoning, they might achieve 359 units, and a higher rate of return to investors. Continue reading