Rapid bus, SkyTrain best option for Langley

So I thought I’d put up a newsletter that the Langley Times published today, along with some added sources/notes.

For anyone that’s curious, I intend to be doing some more blogging on the BCER Interurban very shortly.

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR – Langley Times

Rapid bus, SkyTrain connection still Langley’s best option

Editor: Re: LRT announcement ignores less costly interurban option (The Times, Oct. 2)

We should welcome good transit ideas here in Langley, but there’s a reason that TramTrain isn’t one of them.

TramTrain was possible in Karlsruhe because it’s surrounded by numerous electrified regional railways. We don’t actually have that here in Vancouver; and while the BCER Interurban may seem like a tempting choice, it ran three times a day [1] and wasn’t built to service today’s cities [2].

When the province and TransLink conducted the Surrey Rapid Transit Study, the Interurban was denied because it would cost millions to retrofit yet still fall short on providing useful connections and service frequency [3]. In other words, it would be a giant waste of money.

What we do have are numerous fast highways on which we could operate inexpensive rapid buses. One of those, the Trans-Canada, now has the Fraser Valley Express (FVX) service from Carvolth Exchange to Chilliwack. This service is now providing the alternative that valley commuters asked for — but when it came time to consult locals about the FVX, Rail for the Valley did not participate [4].

That’s because Rail for the Valley’s TramTrain and LRT advocacy doesn’t come from a genuine desire to make transit better — but rather an opposition to extending SkyTrain to Langley, even though it will do the most for transit commuters.

Our SkyTrain system boasts a ridership that is higher than any LRT system in Canada and the US. That’s why over 50 cities worldwide have followed our lead by successfully employing ALRT-style driverless metros [5][6].

As an extension of an existing system, SkyTrain would have the lowest addition in annual operating costs [7]. Without transfers, commuters starting at Langley Centre Station could reach Waterfront Station within 60 minutes [8]. That’s the kind of travel time improvement that’ll get people really wanting to use public transit, and generate the fare revenue to recoup costs.

I’m all for good transit ideas; but when it comes to what will objectively serve Surrey and Langley best, rapid buses and SkyTrain are the way to go.

Daryl Dela Cruz,
Campaign manager
skytrainforsurrey.org

Footnotes

  1. BCER article in Canadian Rail No. 534 issued Jan-Feb 2010 with the writer and 4-time BCER book author, Henry Ewert, stating himself that Fraser Valley interurban trains ran 3 times per day (Mirrored on Exporail.org)
  2. An earlier technical assessment found numerous technical/construct-ability issues with interurban rail. Mirrored [HERE]
  3. Surrey Rapid Transit Study: “Compared to other alternatives, lower population and employment densities along much of the corridor and a less direct connection to Surrey City Centre would result in lower transportation benefits.” See last page of Phase II Information Boards
  4. The BC Transit Public Engagement Reports for the Fraser Valley Express, Abbotsford-Mission (CFVT) Transit Future Plan and the Abbotsford-Mission (CFVT) Efficiency Review indicate that there has been no participation by members of Rail for the Valley and other associated initiatives, with no comments on potential Interurban Rail service.
  5. The Automated Metro Observatory regularly reports on the worldwide progress of driverless transit systems. There is an expectation that the amount of fully driver-less metro systems will triple by the year 2025.
  6. In addition, numerous cities worldwide have implemented the same linear induction motor propulsion technology used by SkyTrain. A full list is on this blog: List of Linear Induction Motor rapid transit systems
  7. Funding Still Missing for LRT Operating Costs news release – SkyTrain for Surrey
  8. Based on Surrey Rapid Transit Study travel time estimates.

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Interurban is just a piece of history

Interurban car 1225 rests at Marpole Station on the old Steveston Interurban
Interurban car 1225 rests at Marpole Station on the old Steveston Interurban in this old-time picture posted on Vancouver Is Awesome

I sent the blog post I created on the Interurban being “dead” as a newsletter to the Surrey Leader, responding to this column about it by Frank Bucholtz. Looks like it was published today on their website, and is likely going to be on tomorrow’s paper issue.

As I have a feeling that this is going to spark some further controversy regarding my comments and my stance on transit, I’d like to offer some additional comments as to why I have set my foot on this position.

The Fraser Valley interurban right-of-way has long been a target for transit advocates here in the South of Fraser (take note: Rail for the Valley initiative, South Fraser on Trax, other groups and individuals), largely on what seems to be a established bases of:

  1. Having been a previously-used transit service
  2. Being a public-owned right-of-way, therefore:
  3. Being “ready-to-build” for a relatively inexpensive Fraser Valley rail transit service.
A map of the Fraser Valley interurban right of way, and the Trans-Canada Highway.
A map of the Fraser Valley interurban right of way, and the Trans-Canada Highway.

Between these advocates and official transportation planning and funding authorities like TransLink, BC Transit and the Province in general, there has been a lot of argument. Conflicting studies suggesting different capital costs per km have been thrown around here and there and claims of bias have been called by some of these advocates, pitting one study over another and citing differing reasons as to why.

Yet, at the same time, it seems that many of these advocates haven’t answered certain questions important in determining what investments are useful and what are not; in particular, the first question I note in my newsletter: “What is the current demand, and how will it change”. How many people are even travelling between Abbotsford and Chiliwack, and between those two points and Metro Vancouver. It’s reasonable to want a constantly-running alternative to driving, but in a province mired with billions in debt, I would think that the alternative has to be very well justified.

It also doesn’t seem that any of them have bothered to look at other alternatives to providing quality transit to the Fraser Valley from Metro Vancouver. An official proposal by B.C. Transit, albeit it is without funding and without a (detailed) implementation timeline, suggests a 10-minute peak rapid bus service extending from the new Carvolth Exchange in Langley Township to Abbotsford via the Trans-Canada Highway, and a 15-minute peak service to Chiliwack. I like this idea. I think that this is a very responsible and reasonable alternative, because it does provide a quality service, and only costs enough to warrant debate if demand warrants more buses or an upgrade to trains.

What the future of Fraser Valley transit could look like, according to an official proposal.
What the future of Fraser Valley transit could look like, according to an official proposal.

I’m not an anti-history person. On the Interurban cars and service, I believe they are a truly fascinating subject on how our region has grown and how people used to get around. Last week during the Salmon Festival in Steveston, I decided to check out Interurban car #1220 (as the admission was free for the day) and found myself fascinated by the ability to switch the seat backs from forward-facing to rear-facing (driver cabs are on both sides, so the seats can be re-oriented when the train reversed), something not done even on our current SkyTrain system. I must remind myself to soon check out that actual running interurban car – no thanks to the Fraser Valley Heritage Railway Society – in Cloverdale right now, which lets people relive the past transportation experience in addition to just being around it.

While it’s great to see that a part of our history is back to be celebrated for being a part of what has created today, I sent this letter and wrote what I did because I believe it’s important that people know why history is deemed history, and that looking at doing better for the now and for the future isn’t a simple matter of looking at the past and making a suggestion that is vague, somewhat unsupported, and sole among other potentially good alternatives.

Next up on this blog: an examination of why the Interurban has been largely rejected, and an examination of reasonable alternatives that haven’t been suggested by advocates.

Until then, I have put a snippet of the letter below, and you can read the rest of it on the Surrey Leader website:

Interurban just a piece of history – Surrey Leader

Great transit is like the SkyTrain, or maybe it’s like the new 555 rapid bus: It’s reliable, frequent, runs several times daily, and is filled with choice riders – riders who justify transit over driving, largely because the services they choose are of high quality.

In one survey of riders on the new Canada Line SkyTrain, trip speed is the favourite aspect.

The old Fraser Valley interurban, which was recently described in a Frank Bucholtz column (“Surrey had great transit… 100 years ago”) as “great transit”, ran only thrice daily.

When the service started in 1910, not many could actually afford the recently invented car. It’s easy to see why ridership declined after the 1940s as the car became more affordable and routes became straighter. For many, the new options won over a three-times-daily service that cannot be missed.

I agree that it was inexcusably short-sighted that the recently partly restored interurban was ended in 1955 without a reasonable alternative, but the old interurban was not great transit. It was just… transit.

READ MORE ON THE SURREY LEADER – [CLICK HERE]