Rapid transit on West Broadway – getting it right by learning from history

Those who ride the 99 B-Line along West Broadway know just how full to capacity public transit is on this busy corridor. Transit analysts tell us that the current form of public transit on West Broadway is just not capable of carrying any additional passengers, and that if we are going to improve public transit on West Broadway we’ll have to make some difficult decisions.

With the talk of different transit options along West Broadway, now is the perfect time to reflect back on the debate that took place in the lead-up to the 2010 Winter Olympics with regard to a different transit line – the transit line from YVR to Downtown Vancouver, now known as the Canada Line. At that point in time, Translink was considering three basic forms of rapid transit: buses, at-grade rail (i.e. LRT light-rail transit), and grade-separated rail (Skytrain). The option eventually selected by Translink, at a budgeted cost of $1.8 billion, was the third option – grade separated rail, an underground Skytrain.

What many people are unaware of is that a much more cost-effective option was available – the rapid bus. A rapid bus is defined by three basic characteristics: dedicated bus lanes, pre-paid boarding, and transponders in the bus that freeze upcoming traffic signals green until the bus clears the intersection.

Translink estimated the cost for a rapid bus option from YVR to Downtown Vancouver at $300 million, or $1.5 billion less than the projected cost for the Skytrain option eventually selected. Translink’s ridership modeling projected a rapid bus ridership at 85% of the ridership of the underground Skytrain. When we recalibrate for the cost-savings, it is clear that an option that saves $1.5b is the preferred one, even if the ridership is slightly less. This is because the saved money ($1.5 billion), used elsewhere throughout the region, would easily increase ridership by more than enough to offset the 15% reduction on the YVR-to-Downtown route.

To put the savings of $1.5b into perspective, Translink currently collects $412 million in fare revenue per annum throughout the entire region for all forms of public transit: buses, the sea bus, the Skytrain and the West Coast Express. $1.5b would allow Translink to make all public transit free for the next four years, with its budget unaffected. To make matters worse, the Canada Line was approved as a public-private partnership or P3. This means that every year money that could be being reinvested in the system is going instead to SNC Lavalin, the private owner of the Canada Line.

As an aside, many people do not know that at the time, this was one of the biggest issues that gave birth to Vision Vancouver. When Vancouver City Council approved the underground Skytrain option, COPE had nine members on Council with NPA holding the other two seats. Four COPE Council members, Mayor Larry Campbell, and Councillors Jim Green, Raymond Louie and Tim Stevenson, voted with the NPA in favor of the underground Skytrain option. These four COPE members went on to form Vision Vancouver. Five COPE City Councillors – Fred Bass, Ann Roberts, David Cadman, Ellen Woodsworth and myself, voted against this option. In doing so, they were voting consistent with COPE’s membership-approved election platform, i.e. to support the most cost effective option. Some say the decision to vote in favor of a P3 for the Canada Line was a career move: Councillors knew that if they voted the way that big business wanted them to, it would benefit their long-term political careers. But now Translink is searching for money and the public is losing confidence in Vision’s ardent pro-business and pro-developer agenda.

This brings us back to West Broadway. This time let’s get it right – let’s choose a rapid bus option owned and operated by Translink:

  • The money saved, spent elsewhere on Vancouver’s transit system, will massively improve bus service throughout Vancouver – and not just on this one route.
  • By saying no to a P3, we keep our transit dollars out of the hands of massive corporations.
  • In addition to making the best use of our transit dollars, do we really need to be putting people in tunnels underground in a climate as mild as Vancouver’s? After hearing the finances, wouldn’t you rather ride at ground level, in eye contact with the shops and people of our neighborhoods?
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6 Responses to Rapid transit on West Broadway – getting it right by learning from history

  1. R says:

    I’m not getting your point… we already have a rapid bus on Broadway, and as you say in your first paragraph, its capacity is maxxed out. Also why are you only talking about WEST broadway? I live at broadway and clark and would like some better transit too please. It should go at least as far east as broadway and commercial, whatever “it” is.

  2. Tim Louis says:

    Dear Ryan,

    Thanks for your reply.

    To clarify, the current route to UBC does not have a rapid bus system, defined by the combination of dedicated bus lanes, pre-paid boarding, and transponders in the bus that freeze upcoming traffic signals green until the bus clears the intersection.

    A rapid bus system, combined with an investment in more buses, will allow Translink to deal with the famously overcrowded transit of West Broadway. The money saved leads us to your important point about East Broadway. The main point of my article is that if Translink chooses a public rapid bus option out to UBC, the millions saved can be used for the whole Broadway corridor and beyond Vancouver throughout the whole region.

    Thanks for reading!


  3. Eric Hamilton-Smith says:

    What a refreshingly sensible perspective! Thank-you Tim Louis. And to think, Vancouverites denied themselves your leadership in the last municipal election. You had my vote. It’s a shame we lost the people-centred representation that COPE brings to city council.

  4. Harley Rose says:


    This sounds more like a political plug for Vision than it does a plea for better transit. As in the election, I have a great resolution for the broadway corridor that will not cost any extra money. It’s called scheduling. My plan is outlined here http://dubgeeformayor.blogspot.ca/2011/10/platform-1-transit.html

    It might look like a plug as well, but I have not been involved in anything political since the election. I just think it is a common sense fix. It doesn’t hold any weight because such a simple solution would discredit a lot of “smart” elected officials and other planners of transit.

    Let me know what you think,


  5. The rapid bus, as described, would take away a car lane. Given how people complain about the loss of a car lane downtown (given to bicycles), I would be amazed if the loss of a car lane on one of the busiest arterials did not become toxic very rapidly.

  6. Tim Louis says:

    Kaitlin, in the short term, I think you may be correct. In the long term, as we move people out of their cars and into buses, the reduced traffic will be accommodated in the remaining lanes.

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