TransLink, another victim of inertia

Malcolm Johnston, a private citizen, has studied and written about rail transit for years. He does not have a lucrative consulting contract to promote Sky Train, the outdated and costly beast that has for decades been rejected by transit experts around the world. Nor is he paid to promote any competing system.

Altruism is uncommon in a world where billions of dollars are at stake and millions are spent recruiting cheerleaders for big dollar systems, even ones that regularly fail open competitions for new installations.

inertiaI’ve written about the concept of bureaucratic inertia, a disease that holds BC Hydro in its grip. It is functioning at TransLink as well. The stated goal may be to move people efficiently, but the organization’s reality is that it is a vast funnel to distribute public funds in numerous directions. The agency’s preference is to never spend $1 billion if there is possibility of spending $10 billion instead.

Mr. Johnston says, “Simple facts seem not to bother those wanting SkyTrain, but with TransLink being utterly dishonest with the public, action must be taken.”

This letter to the editor of Black Press’ Surrey Now Leader is one of Johnston’s contributions to public debate:

The Editor;

I see another ill-informed letter about light rail has been printed using just about every old-saw one can grasp.

Men-of-straw arguments, lack of transit knowledge and spiced with clever “SkyTrain” rhetoric spewed by the SkyTrain Lobby making LRT the devil incarnate.

Why so? LRT is the first choice of transit planners around the world in providing an affordable and user-friendly transit that has a proven ability to attract new ridership. Over 200 new light rail operations have been built since SkyTrain was first marketed in the late 70’s.

Only seven of the proprietary SkyTrain systems have ever been sold, under at least five marketing names!

SkyTrain is not the wonder system many would have us think.

SkyTrain costs a lot more to build, operate, and maintain, than comparable LRT operations. Importantly, LRT is very flexible in operation, which is very important for public transit systems.

As a proprietary Railway, SkyTrain has built in obsolescence.

SkyTrain is capacity constricted, limited to Transport Canada’s Operating Certificate, which allows a maximum capacity of 15,000 pphpd for the light-metro unless a minimum of $3 billion is spent on electrical upgrades, complete station rebuilding, new automatic train control and new cars, which Bombardier is winding down production of the SkyTrain cars.

Future car orders will almost be custom made, both time consuming and expensive.

SkyTrain has become dated and despite huge efforts by the provincial government and TransLink to sell this museum piece, not one SkyTrain has been sold in the past decade, no one is interested.

Surreys’ LRT ills can be explained, TransLink has designed Surrey’s LRT as a poor man’s SkyTrain, taking all the ills of the proprietary light-metro but non of the benefits of LRT.

Real LRT is coming soon to metro Vancouver and this makes TransLink, the City of Vancouver, the Mayor’s Council on Transit,and the SkyTrain Lobby very nervous, hence the ill-informed hate mail.

Categories: Transit, Translink

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5 replies »

  1. The issue of transit is extremely important, yet for many it is “another persons issue”. Unlike Europe, where public transit and transportation are taken very seriously and universities offer degrees in “Urban Transportation”, on this side of the pond we do not.

    Metro Vancouver and TransLink employ career bureaucrats, with degrees in planning or engineering, overseeing transit and this has turned into a big, big mistake because those planning for transit, fail to understand the philosophy of public transport and the role of each transit mode offered.

    Transit modes are bus, tram metro, plus niche modes such as ferry’s, with the bus being the primary source of conveying customers. As traffic flows increase on a transit route the tram or LRT becomes both more efficient and cost effective and when traffic flows along a transit route become such that an at-grade solution is not viable (15,000 persons per hour per direction in North America and 20,000 pphpd in Europe), then a metro, either elevated or in a subway is built.

    In Metro Vancouver all of our light metro lines built were by political diktat from the Premier’s Office, based on political deals made and not sound planning.

    Light-metro is mode that is now almost obsolete and was created to bridge the gap of what a tram or streetcar could carry,10,000 to 12,000 pphpd)and that of a metro. The advent of the concept of light rail with modern articulated streetcars or trams made light metro obsolete almost over night.

    Today in Metro Vancouver, we operate both the proprietary ALRT/ART light metro, which patent owners are Bombardier Inc. and SNC Lavalin and the world’s only heavy-rail metro built as a light-metro, the Canada Line which has SNC Lavalin leading the winning consortium operating Gordon Campbell’s sponsored faux P-3 project.

    The mainstream media has given transit and SkyTrain a free ride since the 1980 and today the media has deified “rapid transit” and those who speak against the great god SkyTrain are treated as heretics.

    Ordinary citizens are ignored or upbraided when they question SkyTrain; reporters who actual write real stories about transit or laid off or transferred, and University Professors who even dare question SkyTrain are sent to a “Star Chamber” for reeducation. I have personally be threatened three times with lawsuits (SLAP) for speaking the truth about SkyTrain. The defense against Libel is truth. And those who support SkyTrain are deathly afraid of the truth.

    With only 7 of the proprietary SkyTrain systems built in the past 40 years (only 3 are seriously used for urban transit) and transit planning based on property rezoning and densification (read big profits for land developers and speculators) instead of efficiently and affordably moving people, is it not time real questions be asked, especially by those who know what questions to be asked?


    • Bombardier Inc. own the technical patents and SNC Lavalin own the engineering patents. When one buys ART (SkyTrain) one automatically does business with Bombardier and SNC.


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