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.


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

Transit funding and election speculation

Focus on Surrey: the B.C. government’s $2.2 billion transit announcement, March 31, 2017. Transit minister Peter Fassbender, MLA for Surrey Fleetwood, is flanked by Marvin Hunt, MLA for Surrey-Panorama, first elected to Surrey City Council in 1988; and by technology minister Amrik Virk, MLA for Surrey-Tynehead, formerly a prominent RCMP officer in Surrey. The photo by Arlen Redekop is clipped from the Vancouver Sun.

British Columbia’s Liberal government took a surprising step late last week with a rapid transit announcement that exceeded most expectations.

The Province will match the federal government’s $2.2 billion pledge toward Phase 2 of the 10-year transportation plan put forward in 2016 by the Metro Vancouver Mayors Council. This phase includes construction of a Clark Street to Arbutus SkyTrain extension in Vancouver, and the Newton-Guildford light rail line in Surrey. Continue reading

Riding the Evergreen Extension


My Facebook friend Trevor Batstone has posted a rider’s eye view from the front of the new Evergreen Extension elevated train through Coquitlam and Port Moody, stopping at Lougheed Town Centre.

We’ve reported in the past on Evergreen Line construction and anticipated effects, most recently in October 2016. The line opened in December. After a late reconfiguration, the track from Coquitlam City Hall (Lafarge Lake/Douglas) to Lougheed Town Centre has been renamed the Millennium Line, Evergreen Extension. The traveller gets a close look at the extensive high-rise development that has been mentioned on this site.

The train continues through Burnaby, (that is, beyond where the video takes us). With a transfer to the Expo Line at Broadway/Commercial the trip from Lafarge Lake to downtown Vancouver takes about 45 minutes.

Light rail for Surrey?

Library and civic plaza seen from Surrey City Hal

Library and civic plaza seen from Surrey City Hall

Surrey’s trimmed-down, still iffy light rail project is entering the preliminary design stage. We may get details in 2018, if things go well, on how the new train line and its stations will affect streets, sidewalks and private properties.

This project is a key component in local government’s drive to knit Surrey’s pattern of subdivisions into an urban unit. The new trains would link Newton and Guildford, both sizable retail and employment zones, with City Centre and nearby Innovation Row. Surrey’s population is approaching half a million, and the 10-year-old City Centre initiative is creating a new hub for jobs and investment with the potential to rival downtown Vancouver  The LRT project is also intended to spark mixed-use development in neighbourhoods along the way. Continue reading

The Evergreen Line and tower development

Skytrain-oriented development at Suter Brook, Port Moody, October 2016

SkyTrain-oriented development at Suter Brook, Port Moody, October 2016

A developer's rendering of the

Burnaby’s “City of Lougheed” project, captured from a real estate site. The Evergreen Line enters from the right to join the existing Millennium Line.

Metro Vancouver’s Evergreen rapid transit line is set to open before the end of 2016. Planning for this SkyTrain link to deep Coquitlam started almost 20 years ago, and residential towers sprang up almost immediately near the proposed route, beginning with Newport and Suter Brook in Port Moody. The Coquitlam Centre precinct was rapidly densified and complexified through the 2000s. We recently saw the astonishing announcement of a 23-tower project at Lougheed Town Centre site in Burnaby, rising to heights of 65 storeys, with a potential for 11,000 apartment units. And it ain’t over yet. Continue reading