Letters to the Editor

TransLink's numbers challenged

Editor: I have read with dismay TransLink’s continued campaign to deliberately misinform the public about modern LRT or light rail, while at the same time championing the very expensive proprietary light metro system that is known as SkyTrain. I am not surprised, as this is just a continuation of TransLink’s deceitful method of transit planning, where the truth has become so twisted it is barely recognizable.

I have been advocating affordable public transit since 1986. During that time, I have made scores of contacts with professional engineers and transit planners in North America and Europe. This has guided my knowledge on the subject of urban transportation.

To date, not one of these professionals has favoured SkyTrain, nor recommended its use. It is easy to see why. The SkyTrain system has been on the market for over 35 years, and gone through at least four official name changes (ICTS, ALRT, ALM, ART).

Only seven such systems have been built, and only two are seriously used for urban transit. The other five systems are short demonstration lines, or airport/theme park people movers.

It is strange that TransLink never broadcasts the following facts:

1. SkyTrain is not faster than LRT — TransLink’s planners have deliberately designed LRT to be slower. Some LRT vehicles are designed to travel at 100 kph on the mainline railways.

2. To date, only seven SkyTrain-type systems have been built. During the same period, 156 new LRT/tram systems have been built, with another 36 on the way.

3. Speed of a transit system does not itself attract ridership, rather it is the speed of the overall commute. SkyTrain with its widely spaced stations will mean longer overall journey times, when compared to LRT.

4. TransLink has yet to offer a credible study which shows that SkyTrain attracts more transit customers than LRT. Elevated transit systems and especially subways tend to deter ridership.

5. To date, no SkyTrain system has matched the capacity offered by LRT or even a streetcar. The main tram route through the City of Karlsruhe is seeing peak hour headways of 45 seconds, catering to traffic flows in excess of 40,000 persons per hour per direction.

6. No SkyTrain system built to date was ever allowed to compete directly against modern LRT. All SkyTrain systems built to date have been sold in private deals or forced on the operating authority by senior governments.

7. The Canada Line is not SkyTrain, rather it is a conventional heavy rail metro, built as a light metro and as such has less potential capacity than a streetcar. Canada Line cars cannot operate on the SkyTrain system and visa versa.

8. SkyTrain is a proprietary transit system and only SkyTrain-made cars are able to operate on SkyTrain. TransLink is tied to one supplier and if SkyTrain goes out of production, there will be no supplier. LRT is a generic transit system and is able to operate cars as a generic transit system. There can be cars from scores of suppliers. The Portland LRT operates vehicles made by Bombardier and Siemens, and the Skoda- built streetcars can also operate on the MAX LRT system.

9. Driverless transit systems are not cheap to operate. In fact, small driverless mini-metro systems like SkyTrain and the Canada Line cost much more to operate than comparable LRT systems with drivers. TransLink has never produced an “oranges to oranges” comparison between LRT and SkyTrain.

TransLink has deliberately over-engineered proposed LRT lines, for the purposes of making it look less affordable than SkyTrain. A general rule of thumb is that underground (subway) construction is about twice that of elevated construction and elevated construction can be up to 10 times more expensive to build than at-grade construction.

What TransLink is practicing, with the many sham studies it produces and the erroneous claims it makes, is simple.

If one repeats a lie over and over again, eventually the public perceives it as truth.

I would recommend South Fraser councils do the following:

1. Demand that TransLink have its “rapid transit” plans reviewed by a credible transit expert, someone who has both planned, built and operated modern light rail and light metro.

2. Fund a second study by a someone who has expertise in designing, building and operating modern LRT.

3. Secede from TransLink altogether and form a South Fraser Transit Authority.

Some years ago, a Victoria transit group asked noted American transit expert, Gerald Fox, to review the Evergreen Line business case. The following was his conclusion and sadly, it still holds true for TransLink today.

“It is interesting how TransLink has used this cunning method of manipulating analysis to justify SkyTrain in corridor after corridor, and has thus succeeded in keeping its proprietary rail system expanding. In the U.S., all new transit projects that seek federal support are now subjected to scrutiny by a panel of transit peers, selected and monitored by the federal government, to ensure that projects are analyzed honestly, and the taxpayers’ interests are protected. No SkyTrain project has ever passed this scrutiny in the U.S.”

D. Malcolm Johnston,


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