January 30, 2014

Anne Golden: Six Hard Truths about Transit

Anne Golden, the first speaker in the new SFU City Program series, “Rethinking Transportation,” supported by TransLink and other community partners, referenced Six Hard Truths about Transit.

Here they are, taken from the op-ed she and Paul Bedford wrote for the Toronto Star:

The following six hard truths add clarity to the debate:

1) Subways are not the only good form of transit. What matters is matching the right transit mode and technology to the proposed route to avoid wasting scarce capital, reducing funds for other projects, and creating burdensome debt.

2) Transit does not automatically drive development. To be successful and affordable, transit routes must connect with current and anticipated employment.

3) The cost of building the transit is not the main expense. Life-cycle operating and maintenance costs are a major portion and must be included in the analysis leading to decisions.

4) Transit riders are not the only beneficiaries of new transit infrastructure. An integrated regional transit network benefits everyone — more choice, more job opportunities and more personal time.

5) Transit expansion in the region is not at a standstill. There is $16 billion worth of transit construction now in progress throughout the GTHA.

6) We can’t pay for the regionwide transit we need by cutting waste in government alone. New revenue sources are required.


Stephen Rees, as usual, provides a helpful summary of the lecture here.

Here, as well, are the collected tweets from #movingthefuture posted during the lecture, storified by Stephen Rees: View “undefined” on Storify

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    1. Applies equally to the obsession in Vancouver that the proposed UBC line has to be a subway underneath Broadway. And that reuse of the Arbutus line could not even be contemplated when a subway beneath Cambie was mandated – by Ken Dobell.

    2. I can’t understand the hate-on TTC/metrolinx has for skytrain/mini-metro. They’ve gone from one extreme to another.

      I worry about the planned Eglington LRT line where they have neglected ‘basic truths’.

      Voony had a good comparison:

      “The capacity of the 19km Canada line is 15,000pphpd, and the line has cost $2B
      The 19km Eglinton LRT (Toronto) will have no better capacity, will travel at least 30% slower, and will cost 150% more ($5B+,…)”

      Another perspective from the star:


    3. The hard facts are mostly right, but I agree that they discount light metro and that they get the costs wrong.

      It’s not just Toronto that spends more on light rail than Vancouver spends on light metro. You can see the same thing in Portland, Seattle, Calgary, and Ottawa.

      For a given capacity, a more frequent automated line (let’s call it light metro) will require smaller trains than a less frequent manually driven line (let’s call it light rail). Because each light metro train is smaller, light metro stations can be shorter and station capacity can be lower with fewer entrances and escalators. On a line with many underground stations, light metro should be cheaper than light rail.

      In addition, an underground line supplied by a third rail will require a smaller bore than a line supplied by overhead catenary, and this larger bore is an additional price paid for the possibility of surface operation (e.g. crossing streets at grade) on light rail lines.

      There is also more ground disturbed by surface construction in streets than elevated construction over streets. The need to avoid and move utilities might be a reason for the high cost of surface light rail construction.

      I would be interested in seeing more detailed costing information. These are my best guesses for why it is costing more to build light rail than light metro on, over, and under streets in North America.

      I think the aversion to light metro in Toronto is a result of problems with the Scarborough RT. These include (from memory, please correct me):
      1) the transfer at the end of the line,
      2) unnecessary manual operation and consequent low frequency,
      3) the inability to upgrade rolling stock due to turning radii, and
      4) poor reliability when faced with snow and ice.

      None of these is something that can’t be solved with a relatively minor fix, like expanding turns or covering switches or running trains through the night. We do some of these things here. If the Eglinton Line were built as an extension of the Scarborough RT, there would not be an unnecessary transfer.

  1. To point #3, about transit not paying for itself: true, obviously. But the highest ridership transit, subways in particular, does tend to have lower operating costs and, I suspect, better farebox recovery rates. Not that that changes the overall point that these things need to be taken into account, but the most important measure is probably subsidized cost per rider, not overall operating cost per rider, total operating cost, etc.

  2. These six points are mainly true, however subways are a must in dense areas. Light rail above ground is a stupid idea in a city. It cuts in half areas, is noisy, doesnot allow crossings, chokes traffic and reduces property values. I’d say along Broadway there is no alternative to a subway. Further out, say west of Alma above ground might be ok.