– TransLink is broke and broken


The Tri-City News

TransLink is broke and the reasons are easy to understand.

TransLink operates light metro (in the guise of SkyTrain and the Canada Line) on routes that do not have the ridership to support them. SkyTrain is subsidized by more than $230 million annually and to date more than $8 billion has been spent on light metro in the region, yet TransLink’s regional share of ridership is about 11% to 12% and has not changed in almost two decades.

There has not been a discernible modal shift from car to transit in the region in almost two decades.

TransLink operates buses on routes with little or no ridership for social reasons and squanders vast amounts of money trying to please everyone, yet pleasing no one.

TransLink offers deep discounted fares such as the U-Pass while operating a premium light metro system. This causes much crowding of the transit system in strategic areas, discouraging transit customers who pay full fares while at the same time starves TransLink of much needed revenue.

Yet TransLink wants more taxpayers money to do more of the same; building more light metro, operate more buses on questionable routes and offer more deep discounted fares.

Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results has been defined as madness.

Regional politicians must ignore TransLink’s well-orchestrated propaganda campaign of deceit and deception and see the organization for what it is: a poorly run bloated bureaucracy, achieving very little at great expense and walk away from it and let it die a natural death.

Malcolm Johnston, Delta


3 Responses to “A letter to the Editor in the Tri-Cities news – TransLink is broke and broken”

  1. Jason Says:
    And this letter to the editor is a perfect example of why the light rail lobby is doomed to failure in Metro Vancouver. Most people will simply ignore a negative letter to the editor that does nothing more than bash a service they have a positive opinion about and use every day. I know I did every time I read one of Malcolm Johnson’s (sp?) letters to the editor where he bashed Skytrain, a service I use every day and like before I had a better understanding of light rail technology and what the costs are for Skytrain. For 90% of the commuters in Metro Vancouver, Skytrain is their only experience of rail based transit service and one that has, for the most part, worked quite well for them and a “fringe” group bashing the service just becomes noise in the background. As for the cost of running Skytrain, until the creation of Translink, the funding of the transit system was a black box that most people didn’t have a clue about how it worked. Now that it is a more visible process (I won’t call it transparent) people are more aware of the cost associated with each component of the transit system.

    Until the light rail lobby moves away from bashing Skytain, there is no hope of winning enough public support to force the provincial and federal governments to abandon their fixation on Skytrain and change their focus to more affordable and appropriate light rail technology. Translink isn’t the main problem here, the problem is the provincial government can’t keep their fingers out of Metro Vancouver and the federal government (whichever party that may be) is always trying to buy votes in Quebec with our money. Neither level of government gives a damn about what is best for Metro Vancouver other than what their narrow focus says is best.

    And while I personally enough the looks into different light rail systems used around the world that this blog provides, I am a transit geek. Your average Metro Vancouver commuter isn’t going to relate to a light rail system in a city in France that they have never been to and most likely will never visit. So touting other light rail systems isn’t going to win the battle either.

    What is going to win the battle is giving Metro Vancouver residents a clear vision of what a light rail system could look like. The report prepared by UBC researchers last year showing that the funding for the proposed UBC Skytrain line could create a light rail network of some 200 kilometers is a step in the right direction. Giving a clear picture of what a light rail option for the Evergreen line could look like is another way of getting support. What would it look like on St. Johns street in Port Moody with light rail down the middle of the street with convenient stops allowing easy access to shops and services along that corridor? How would the trains interact with traffic? What do the different ROW concepts look like? How easy would it be to extend the service to Pitt Meadows/Maple Ridge? How would travel times compare to the 97 B-line and the proposed Skytrain option? What would the REALISTIC cost difference be between the light-rail and Skytrain options? What else could we do with that money?

    The light rail lobby needs to build that vision and sell it to the public. Get them in favor of it and actively lobbying their MLAs and MPs. Get the local mayors and city councils on side. Be realistic in the costs and travel times. Bring up the comparisons between light rail and Skytrain, but don’t be overly negative towards Skytrain other than what the numbers support.

    Negative ad campaigns generally don’t work. For this current provincial government, they seem to feed on people opposing them. Until we get a sufficient body of support that threatens the Liberal’s continued power base in government, we are doomed.

    Zweisystem replies: The letter never mentioned light-rail, but highlights the problem with TransLink. There is a strange idea in “Lotus Land” is that the more money one throws at TransLink, the better it will be. It doesn’t work. SkyTrain is a proprietary railway (strike 1) and it is a light metro servicing routes that do not have the ridership to support it (strike 2). One can not escape the facts and the result, monies that could have been spent on regional transit is sucked into SkyTrain’s debt black hole. There is only one taxpayer.

    Light Rail will not be built any time soon because of a thirty year propaganda campaign of deceit and deception by BC Transit and TransLink and repeated ad nauseum by the mainstream media, about modern light rail. Gerald Fox skewers the Evergreen Line Business Case, so much so, that if this so called Business Case were in the USA, there would be a police investigation. Not so in BC, where shady stock market practices, become bona fide transit planning.

    Yes, yes, SkyTrain has worked so well that it has bankrupted the operating authority and has not created a modal shift from car to transit!

    If one wants better transit in the region, one has to drive a wooden stake through the SkyTrain myth and the organization that keeps building with light-metro.

  2. Jason Says:
    I’m not saying we should ignore the true costs of Skytrain. What I am saying is the average resident is not going to respond to a letter that strictly bashes Skytrain for the reasons I mentioned previously. People are numb to poorly spent public money because we see it all of the time and so most feel there is nothing they can do about it!

    Look at the campaigns against the carbon tax and the HST. Public opinion polls are negative on both, but rallies against the taxes were small and represent a miniscule portion of the eligible voting population.

    As for Translink, I don’t have a problem with the concept of a body responsible for transportation policy in the Metro Vancouver area. It’s a far better idea than each area going its own way and we end up with a poorly integrated system. What needs to happen is for the provincial government to either decide that it is going to dictate transportation policy for the region and take responsibility for the policy or complete hand it off to the region and butt out of the decision making process! It also needs to ensure there is a stable funding formula for the agency, not the crap we have now.

    Assuming that the provincial government decides to butt out, Translink also needs to be more accountable to regional taxpayers. I personally think that the head of Translink needs to be an elected position. The representatives for each city or area could either be elected by the local residents or appointed by the city council, but I think it is key that the top person directing the agency is elected and accountable directly to the taxpayers.

    Major transit projects like new light rail lines should be put to referendum. Voters would be presented with options that would include proposed route, technology, timeline, and a breakdown of what each level of government would be contributing to the project. It may make it more difficult to get some projects approved, but hopefully the process would be more transparent. This process is used in areas like Portland and Seattle for getting transit projects approved.

    Translink can be a good thing, it just needs to be more accountable to the taxpayers and the provincial government needs to keep its fingers out of the pie!

    Zweisystem replies: No argument about elected TransLink Board and projects going to referendum.

  3. Jason Says:
    October 7, 2009 at 8:11 am What’s wrong with using transit for social goals? Why is it not acceptable to offer discounted transit passes to students in order to reduce the number of vehicles traveling to the various campuses and schools?

    It does provide challenges to the transit system and the provincial government needs to step up to the plate in terms of funding if it wants to use the transit system for social goals. If the provincial government wants U-Pass, then it needs to fund the local transit agency for the addition service required and the lost revenue.

    Sometimes buses need to be operated on questionable routes. If you don’t provide some level of service that provides an alternative to commuters then they end up in cars. Our existing urban landscape isn’t going to magically condense any time soon, so unless we want to tell commuters that they don’t matter because they live in a low-ridership area, we need to provide that service.

    As for the argument I have seen that providing transit service to low-ridership/low-density areas encourages urban sprawl, that argument could be used against the proposed Fraser Valley Interurban. After all, by providing a convenient transit link to Langely or Chiliwack, you’re encouraging people to move to a low-density area where housing is more affordable.

    I don’t buy the argument, but other people would.

    Zweisystem replies: Using transit to pursue ’social goals’ is a slippery slope to transit chaos. Simply, the transit customer is in effect ‘left at the station’ when bureaucrats and politicians divert transit money to their pet social project. Let us not forget the customer, as TransLink has with the RAV/Canada Line, where with few exceptions has forced transfers on transit customers who previously had a no transfer journey and creating longer journey times. This is sheer madness and to waste nearly $3 billion on this sort of thing clearly illustrates the point.

    A public transit’s function is to move people quickly, comfortably and affordable to where the transit customer wants to go. Public transit is a product and like other products it must entice the customer to it; if not the product fails. SkyTrain, after almost 25 years in operation has failed to show a modal shift from car to transit in a desperate propaganda campaign has offerer deep discounted fares (U-Pass) that has created gross over crowding on the transit system that deters ‘real’ customers (those paying full fare) from using the transit system.

    The TransLink transit model is not sustainable.

    Density is not a criteria for a successful transit system, rather an excuse by TransLink for not building rail transit into the Fraser Valley. The Fraser Valley has a greater average density than Belgium, yet Belgium operates 3,000 of railway, 6 stand alone tram systems and a metro.

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