TransLink concludes SkyTrain clear winner for Vancouver – and Surrey
TransLink has officially completed their multi-year rapid transit studies, one for Vancouver and one for Surrey. The result? SkyTrain is the preferred option for both cities. Let’s dive in to the numbers.
First is Vancouver. TransLink narrowed down the options to three: street-level LRT, a combination LRT option with SkyTrain to Arbutus, and SkyTrain to UBC.
Here are the numbers. There is a clear trade off between capital costs, new transit trips and time savings. The LRT is the cheapest, if a billion dollar project can be called cheap, but it attracts the least amount of new riders and produces next to no time savings.
Now compare the combo option with full SkyTrain. For just $300 million more, full SkyTrain along Broadway attracts a 18% more riders – 10,000 to be exact – and cuts 10 minutes off the travel time. SkyTrain here is a no brainer.
Now let’s take a look at Surrey, where the technologies have been more hotly contested. While many, including myself, have been keen on LRT, others argue BRT is sufficient for our city, while some continue to argue SkyTrain. As it turns out, SkyTrain and BRT may win the day.
TransLink narrowed the Surrey study down to four options: BRT on all corridors, LRT on Fraser with BRT on King George, LRT on Fraser and King George to Newton with a southern BRT branch, and SkyTrain on Fraser with BRT on King George.
The City favours Option 3 the most. They’ve frequently made the argument that SkyTrain is a visual blight and would split neighbourhoods in half, while LRT’s street-level access would fit more appropriately in communities. Overall, I’ve found that argument to be quite weak – it doesn’t look pretty is the best you can come up with?
The other justification they’ve put on the table is that they need LRT to shape growth. Here I will absolutely agree – BRT simply does not stimulate and shape growth the way rail can. That doesn’t mean though that LRT has a monopoly on shaping growth. SkyTrain has been very effective at densifying areas where plans and land uses support doing so. My point has been that it is a question of how much density a community is willing to have. LRT will bring mid-rises, while SkyTrain is almost guaranteed to bring towers.
TransLink’s study was all about facts and it delivers them clearly. Looking at cost, ridership, and time savings, the City’s preferred Option 3 turns out to be pretty much the worst choice available. It loses on time savings due to transfers and sharing the roadway.
As it turns out, Fraser is the only route that would deliver sufficient ridership for rail. King George lacks the corridor population to warrant anything other than BRT out to 2041, even with projected growth patterns. I would suspect this has to do with most of Surrey’s growth happening in new edge neighbourhoods, rather than its King George core.
Let’s take a look at the numbers. Full BRT isn’t all the cheap, coming in at almost a billion dollars. Interestingly, it attracts more riders than both LRT options with similar travel times. Comparing Option 3 to the SkyTrain/BRT Option 4, SkyTrain costs just $40 million more than LRT, but delivers twice the riders – from 12,000 to 24,500 – and cuts travel time by a quarter saving 7 minutes over LRT.
While I have been an advocate of Light Rail in Surrey for years, the numbers are quite clear. For practically the same price, SkyTrain delivers a more robust, attractive, and effective transit service for the South Fraser than an LRT network would. For this reason, I am prepared to endorse and support a SkyTrain/BRT plan for Surrey moving forward.
However, in doing so, we must be prepared to mentally re-imagine the landscape of our City. With a diagonal SkyTrain along Fraser, “urban” Surrey will no longer be the “L” shaped Guildford-Whalley-Newton triad. Instead, we will see a chain of densification and metropolitan cores rise around Whalley-Fleetwood-Clayton. If we can embrace that change, then perhaps a SkyTrain for Surrey may be the right solution after all.