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Canada Line hoopla about to begin

August 14th, 2009 · 41 Comments

You may not know this out there in non-media-land, but a major frenzy is about to break out over the opening of the Canada Line. It’s all hands on deck for the opening Monday, where about 40,000 are expected to ride the line in the eight hours it’s open and free. It sounds like parties are being planned at many of the stations, so all you transit junkies should come prepared for an endurance slog. (Hint: there’s not much around the Templeton site on Sea Island, but it’s a cool place to watch planes come in right in front of your nose).

And guess what, you all! I got to ride it today. I’ll have a little story in Monday’s Globe so I won’t go into detail here but I have to say, it was kind of like getting to test drive a brand-new, hmmm, really big Prius. Or being the first on a new ride at the PNE. Or both.

In the meantime, here’s some of the blanket coverage that’s starting to come out. (Did this kind of carrying on happen with the Millennium and Expo lines? I can’t remember anything like it.) The Globe’s story is here. The Sun’s whole supplement is here. The Canada Line site is here.

And now to add my amateur philosophical musings on all this, in advance of the debate that is sure to break out between those who love love love transit technology and those who think Vancouver poured $2 billion down a long tunnel to get a few thousand more riders a year …

One of the things that has always puzzled me is how fierce the debate is about transit in Vancouver, between the SkyTrain and light-rail/bus factions, between the pro- and anti-turnstile people, between the pro-transit and pro-road factions. While I was travelling in Europe last month, I came up with a theory to explain some of it (besides the fact that we’re an insular bunch who automatically polarize over every issue like kids in a playground). My theory is: Vancouver is caught in the middle. It’s a baby city that is somewhere at the mid-point between different transit solutions.

If we were a really big city, it would make sense to spend billions on expensive subway-style systems and put in turnstiles, because we’d have the population to support it. If we were a Bologna- or Montpellier-sized town, it would make more sense to put in light rail or just good buses and there’d be no economic sense to putting in turnstiles because the ridership wouldn’t be enough to make catching the non-payers cover the cost of turnstiles.

But we’re in between. Subways (and turnstiles) sort of make sense if you think we’re going to keep growing and get denser. Light rail or rapid bus (and no turnstiles) sort of make sense for the population we are (and the money we have) now and for the kind of city some people would like to see Greater Vancouver remain.

I welcome all comments telling me I’m an idiot, citing the transit systems of cities on all the continents. But I’d like to also see your comments on why you think this continues to be such a flashpoint.

Categories: Uncategorized

  • LP

    Well Frances, you do open yourself up to the inevitable comparisons from your followers when you include such statements as “While I was travelling in Europe last month….” in your post.

    Vancouver is it’s own city and my belief is that it is the narrow-minded and not open-minded who look to other cities around the world for comparisons on success and failure in our culture.

    Its the easy way out to look to others for inspiration, while it actually takes some brain power to come up with some solutions on one’s own.

    Let the know-it-all fest begin.

  • Robert

    While the Canada Line was under construction and the Cambie Street merchants were looking for help from someone,
    Gordon Campbell and all the BC liberals kept saying it’s not our project,
    So we’ve seen Gord in the plaid shirt, the red forest fighters shirt, hard hats will we see him Monday wearing a engineers hat looking like Casey Jones?

  • 40,000 lookie-loos may be a big media event. (How come 40.000 people are free on a weekday?)

    But never mind that, I anticipate the real circus, the really big news event, will be the morning of September 7 at Brighouse Station. I don’t have to ride the bus to work (I’m retired) so it’s no skin off my nose but the concept seems flawed to me.

    Imagine that you commute (maybe you don’t have to imagine it) from somewhere south of the Fraser. On a dark, cold, wet morning you board your bus which takes you to the centre of the city while you nap, read, twiddle your thumbs or groove to your iPod in an upholstered seat with an armrest (I think they recline a tad as well). As of Sept. 7 nothing changes (it won’t be dark, wet and cold for a month or so), except now you and hundreds like you will be disgorged from your buses at Brighouse station to board the Canada Line. Maybe there will be room on the trains, maybe not, but you’ll most likely stand for the rest of your trip into town, 90% of it in a tunnel.

    Highly paid professionals have planned this so we’ll find out if they got it right on Sept. 7. I wouldn’t miss the Six 0’clock News for anything that night.

  • spartikus

    But we’re in between.

    We are. And this is why I don’t think the Skytrain lines are a waste. 100 years from now they’ll still be well-used. Perhaps it would have been more efficient to start with light rail, but this isn’t, as most issue aren’t, black or white.

  • Gary

    “Its the easy way out to look to others for inspiration, while it actually takes some brain power to come up with some solutions on one’s own.”

    So, how far out do you look for ideas? Can people in Kerrisdale look to Burnaby for ideas, or to West Vancouver? Can Vancouver look to Montreal? Can Vancouver look to Portland? Why does it matter where the ideas come from, as long as they are good (meaning they achieve the city planning objectives)?

  • Gary

    “Its the easy way out to look to others for inspiration, while it actually takes some brain power to come up with some solutions on one’s own.”

    Oh, and one more thing, it’s “it’s”.

  • Delia


    You’re thinking of Bridgeport Station by the Oak Street Bridge where there will be a transit exchange for Delta and South Surrey transfers. Richmond-Brighouse Station is by the Richmond Centre mall. Local Richmond routes will connect there.

  • Shane

    @ Wayne:

    Every other Canada Line train arriving at Bridgeport station in the a.m. rush will arrive from YVR virtually empty (versus those arriving from Richmond Centre). So, many S.O.F. commuters will actually get a seat on the train.

    Plus – lets not forget that those suburban buses will be running TWICE as frequently starting Sept 7 because of the fact they won’t be going downtown.

    Of course, we also shouldn’t forget that people have the freedom to choose residences closer to their jobs and rapid transit.

  • gmgw

    Shane said:
    “… we also shouldn’t forget that people have the freedom to choose residences closer to their jobs and rapid transit.”

    This is the hands-down winner of the Fatuous Comment of the Month Award. Shane, with a brain like yours, and your evident skill at rewriting (or just unquestioningly accepting) Translink PR bumpf, I figure you’ve *got* to be a transit planner. ‘Fess up.

    I’m sure that in the parallel Bizarro universe in which Shane lives, dialogues like the following are taking place all along the Granville corridor right this minute: “Honey? It says here that when the Canada Line starts running, the #98 B-Line will be taken off Granville! That means we’ll have to go back to riding those slow, crowded trolleys to work — Oh, yuck! I think we’d better buy a house near Cambie right away, don’t you? Here’s a nice-looking one for sale near 23rd– it’s only $1.2 million… let’s run over and buy it this afternoon, so we can be moved in by the weekend.”

  • bobh

    I have no problem with the Canada line now that it is read to open. I did have a problem with the decision to do a cut and fill along Cambie. The effect of that decision was catastrophic for many small business people and showed the face of government at its worst. The convenience for air travelers and all the many airport employees will enhance this City’s reputation ,. Good decision to build this service.

  • “While I was travelling in Europe last month, I came up with a theory to explain some of it (besides the fact that we’re an insular bunch who automatically polarize over every issue like kids in a playground). ”
    Francis Bula quote

    that says it all about Vancouver. My sentiments exactly

  • cold water

    “Vancouver is it’s own city and my belief is that it is the narrow-minded and not open-minded who look to other cities around the world for comparisons on success and failure in our culture.”

    How typically Vancouver! Insular to the Nth degree. Never mind what others have learned through their experiences, we’re DIFFERENT, so never mind. Let’s spend bazillions of dollars making our own mistakes! Hey, its only the tax payers money!

  • DMJ

    In Europe, transit planners adhere to the science of public transport, not the ‘pixie dust’ method used here.

    In the real world, buses are use on transit routes with average hourly ridership of 0 to 4,000 persons per hour per direction. Trams or LRT on routes with average hourly ridership of 2,000 to 20,000 pphpd. And metro (SkyTrain/RAV) on routes that have an average hourly ridership of 15,000 pphpd+.

    There is overlap and exceptions. When a tram track-shares with regular railways (Karlsruhe, Kassel, Strasbourg, Hanau, Camden, etc.) it can operate on routes with ridership as low as 200 pphpd and guided bus can handle passenger loads as high s 6,000 pphpd.

    Sure Curitiba busways carry more passengers per hour, but then their bus ways are 6 lanes wide! Equal LRT lines (6 or 3 each way) would give a capacity of 60,000 persons per hour per direction!

    It is metro (SkyTrain/RAV) that really can’t economically handle loads less than 15,000 pphpd and is currently subsidized by over $200 million annually. Subways are so expensive (RAV/Canada Line actually costs nearer to $3 billion) that they are never considered for transit lines with a ridership of under 400,000 passengers a day!

    Excuse me, RAV is only supposed to carry 100,000 passengers a day? Well expect the taxpayer to ante up big time, for a long time!

    And for Spartikus it is cheaper to maintain an at-grade rail line than an elevated or subway line and is another reason for LRT’s Renaissance in Europe, their planners plan for 50 years or more, not like the next election here.

    Ever wonder why they build more LRT in Europe? They have real transit experts, with real public transit degrees, planning the most effective and affordable transit systems they can.

    Here, our transit planning is simple, the premier decrees, you are going to get SkyTrain or RAV, whether you like it or not.

    The following is a lesson on failed metro planning.

  • LP


    I know expect u to visit all blog across the Internet to spell chek and correct people everwhere.

    Or perhaps you can take a course on how to successfully interact with others since you clearly have some issues.

  • LP

    cold water,

    The only insular thinking going on is when folks like you spout off garbage about how what works elsewhere should/could/would work here.

    There are clearly many differences between countries and their people and technology along with engineering are not necessarily the end all and be all of solving a problem.

    One can only imagine how terribly disappointed the likes of Socrates and Galileo would be in people today with the lack of ingenuity in thought. 2000+ years ago the Romans accomplished far more with less, than we do today.

    As stated it is the narrow-minded who look elsewhere for inspiration.

  • Susan Heyes

    Hi Frances……why does this continue to be such a flashpoint ?

    The end does not come close to justifying the means that built it.

    The devastation was preventable.

    Excellent public transit is essential – but so is a democratic process and meaningful consultation with those who will be unfairly impacted by these mega-projects deemed for the public good.

    It is regrettable that at every stage of the construction process, this project chose to ignore the concerns of the people who would be impacted the most – the residents and small business owners along the proposed route. Instead of meaningful consultation, we were paid very costly lip service, and given facile ad campaigns.

    The entire city was thrown into polluting gridlock for years – needlessly – and with such arrogance.

    The project was driven by an Olympic timeline, and not by what was best for citizens.

    I can only wonder at all the car accidents that could and should have been avoided, due to carving our city in half and forcing all commercial and residential traffic to constantly changing alternate routes, even now, several years later.

    If anything positive is to come from this, let it be that all future projects respect and incorporate the concerns of the community – that businesses and residents are fully informed of all options, and consulted at a point in the project where their input is actually meaningful.

    The best interests of all citizens and the environment, should be taken into consideration along with the cost of the project.

    Adequate full compensation must be factored into the plan from the beginning.

    The public deserves the whole truth, not shocking announcements of a done deal that bears no resemblance to what was confidentially presented for approval.

    The least destructive method should be employed – not the most destructive.

    The interests of small businesses and residents are not to be trumped by government funded private for profit ventures.

  • Pixi Dust

    The Canada Line is a money pit.

    And a question for Campbell when he puts on his engineer’s cap on Monday……..
    Has SNC-Lavalin repaid the “temporary loan” of $56 million the province extended to the company to tide it over for the funds that had been frozen in the States on its sub-prime mortgage backed paper investments?

    That would go a very long way to covering the shortfall in our healthcare system.

    But I guess we’ll never know – the emails around this and many other deals have probably been ‘dobelled’.

  • david m.

    good points frances. and you’ll notice that the heatedness of the debates falls along some pretty clear lines in the city and region – those who are unlikely ever to use rapid transit line up against those who are likely to use it as a primary means of transportation; those who do not live in the city are far more likely to advocate maximal alrt as opposed to lrt. it’s all quite unenlightened.

    finally, it’s worth putting these things in perspective, in other jurisdictions, especially in the u.s., cities draft plans then get higher levels of government to ante up. but the city of vancouver is too small and too constrained by the few revenue generation tools afforded it to build anything on its own, so the responsibility for rapid transit falls to the province via a regional transportation authority, which makes sense. but it also leads to perverse outcomes, like burnaby having more kms of rail track than vancouver, the evergreen line being built before the ubc line, a vancouver streetcar system that’ll likely never happen. absent the regional entity, many of these towns would opt to remain car-only suburbs and vancouver would likely already have a significant tram network.

  • Bill Lee

    “When I was in Europe…” so is Prof. Bula going to be teaching next summer at the University of Bologna’s urbans studies dept?

    It is a shame that the Rave line forced Coast Mountain to cut the trolley lines down all along Cambie. One fewer alternative when the line doesn’t work.

    I haven’t checked yet, but what fire hydrants sheared off in an accident will flood the tunnels?

    I’m surprised that Mr. Fung hasn’t promoted his Aberdeen stop to his other buildings at Broadway and Cambie. Maybe only in the Chinese media.

    Bline riders are going to very disappointed at not getting a seat on the new cars compared to the present buses.

    And speaking (or coughing) about standing close together on the Rave line, see the Australian Medical Journal (now in their winter flu season) for Linkname: eMJA: A pandemic problem with public transport

    No mention of Basford’s Sun column on the lateness of station redevelopments.

    One word: BearCapsicumSpray.

  • Otis Krayola

    Sorry, gmgw, but there’s no way Shane has anything to do with transit – planning or otherwise. Anybody that thinks that a bus trip halved translates into twice the service lives in a fantasy land.

  • Delia

    The Canada Line is done people! It’s eagerly awaited by many commuters. We’re so lucky to have this new metro system. Other cities would kill to have what we’re getting. The technology makes sense given the geography of Vancouver and Richmond, and their separation by the Fraser River. LRT would not have been suitable. It would have disrupted roads and neighbourhoods too much. Let’s celebrate having chosen the best option among them. Yay Canada Line!

  • gmgw

    Otis Krayola (we’re getting some great names turning up in here) said:

    “Sorry, gmgw, but there’s no way Shane has anything to do with transit – planning or otherwise. Anybody that thinks that a bus trip halved translates into twice the service lives in a fantasy land.”

    I take your point, Otis, and I agree; sadly, having talked with a number of Transit planners over the years (including several at the recent Canada Line open houses), I can assure you that Fantasyland is exactly where most of them live. Given that, you’d think they’d be better at what they do; after all, Disneyland has two highly efficient mass-transit systems: The Monorail and the Disneyland Limited… oh, you didn’t mean *that* Fantasyland? Sorry.

  • gmgw

    Delia actually said, no, really!, she really did say (cue cynical, bitter laughter and chorus of retching noises):

    “Yay Canada Line!”

    Urgh… fish… barrel… shotgun… must resist temptation… must.. resist… Aggh… losing… control… Nnghhh!!!… (sudden sound of gunfire; rest of post mysteriously erased)

  • gmgw

    Just wait till all those eager wannabee riders discover that most of the stations have no downward escalators. Hey, they had to cut corners *somewhere*…

  • DMJ

    Yes RAV/Canada line is a done deal and regional taxpayers will pay for this metro line for decades to come.

    Delia, LRT does not disrupt roads and it protects neighborhoods from development, because it is much cheaper to build, not needing massive density to sustain it.

    Protecting suburban neighborhoods is one of the LRT’s success stories.

  • Gassy Jack’s Ghost

    “It is a shame that the Rave line forced Coast Mountain to cut the trolley lines down all along Cambie. One fewer alternative when the line doesn’t work.”

    Yes, Bill, and I hope the patches I hear they had to put on the leaky tunnel under False Creek hold for more than a year. Or the soft beds that, due to time restraints, weren’t tamped down enough don’t create huge cracks in the lower level tunnels when the ground shifts.

    Ya might wanna bring a snorkel and a suit of armour when riding Canada Line, just in case…

  • evilfred

    Can people please be more specific about where exactly they’re talking about when they say “Europe”? While some places like Zurich have amazing public transit rail lines, other places have varying degrees of transit quality. Europe is a big, complicated place, and by sweeping over all of it we compare an idealized, generalized swath to a specific, local, complicated city.

    The Canada Line was a ridiculously expensive option, and caused unending construction grief for years, destroying many many businesses on Cambie St (and Yaletown). When they say it was “under budget”, that’s only because they screwed so many businesses out of so much revenue. Hopefully more businesses follow up on the precedent set by Susan Heyes.

    All that said, I think that it will profoundly change the city. Transit traffic is shifting from Granville to Cambie. Cambie was kind of a sleepy corridor before, and now it is in the middle of things. Sure it may be expensive to run (and the private partnership crap is stupid), but it’s going to be down there for hundreds of years. When New York and London first put in their underground lines, did they have 40000 people per day on them? Did they turn a profit?

    I don’t see why we’re so concerned about “losing money” on the Canada Line. The welfare system “loses money” and so do food inspectors. Public transit should be a subsidized public utility. Adjusting to the inconvenience of using public transit is our duty in order to help make a small attempt to fight climate change.

    tin-foil hat mode: I’m of the opinion that Vancouver’s size will swell as the effects of climate change start ravaging much of the world in the next 50 years. Except for Richmond and Tsawwassen, which will be drowned, Vancouver will probably do comparably well as we’re not close to the equator, and are close to food-growing areas to the east.

  • gmgw

    The substandard construction quality you speak of is no big surprise, when you consider how much of the line was built by virtual indentured labour, imported from outside of the country and paid slave wages. A “success story” we can all be proud of.

  • Delia

    I see nothing but high standards of construction everywhere on the line. If minor problems are found in a few areas, the contractors will resolve them. There are bound to be a few kinks to work out in any new project. Don’t worry about them. Enjoy the ride! It’s time to celebrate the arrival of such a world-class transportation system. Yay Canada Line! 🙂

  • Otis Krayola

    Bill Lee is not alone when he laments the loss of Cambie as a trolley bus route. That’s not all that lies in store, I’ll wager. Watch for the discontinuation of Cambie bus service anywhere in the downtown core come September. Hie thee to a RAV station.

    And no, Shane, that doesn’t mean that the bus frequency on Cambie will be doubled. I’m thinking skeletal service levels, probably featuring ‘community shuttles’ between stations south of False Creek.

  • Otis Krayola

    Delia, you’re getting paid for this, aren’t you?

  • mezzanine

    For all its lumps, I’m glad that the Canada Line is opening. I’ve seen people say that it will never reach ridership projections and people say that we will regret not building for more ridership. People who say we’ve cheaped out and cut corners and people who say we spent too much.

    Let’s see what happens in a year from now. IMO it will be well-used and indispensable part of our transit system.

  • Chris

    The fact that it’s opened early and on budget is surely a boon, don’t you think? MBO sure seems to think so:

  • WW

    Maybe the discussion and debate now needs to shift to “how can we maximize the benefits.” The line is built. It was built how it was built (in terms of disruptions to city and business live). That’s over.

    Now we have a great new rapid-transit service with new stations.

    How should city planning policy shift to make use of the Cambie Corridor?

    What new businesses might be viable now that more people can reach certain nodes?

    Will it be possible to develop more housing units near transit stations, thereby giving more people an option to live in Vancouver? and perhaps helping to mitigate sky rocketing costs of renting or owning because of the supply/demand imbalance.

    Lets use the line, rather than continue wasting energy arguing about whether it should have been built how it was.

  • Darcy McGee

    Ha. I just noticed that one of the Vancouver Sun’s “Canada Line” articles was written by Frank Luba. At first glance I thought it was Frances Bula.

    Alter ego, Frances? Perhaps an intentional ploy on the part of the sun to retain readers disappointed in your departure (but happy you’re contributing to the Globe.)

  • Shane

    I’m talking about people who live in obscure cul-de-sacs in obscure suburbs, then whine and complain about how “crappy” transit service is.

    I think I can safely say that if they live in said obscure of the obscure, that access to transit had absolutely ZERO weighting in their decision matrix when they chose their residence.

    Therefore, they have no right to complain.

    Most of those coach express buses are going from 60 minute, to 30 minute frequency no?

  • gmgw

    Shane said:
    “Most of those coach express buses are going from 60 minute, to 30 minute frequency no?”

    Most of the large number of people who ride those buses daily seem to feel that doubling their frequency of service is no compensation for halving the distance they travel.

    As for those whiny people in “obscure cul-de-sacs in obscure suburbs” you keep bitching about, Shane, did you ever stop and think for even one minute that maybe they live out there because that’s how far out they had to go before they could find a house they could afford? That maybe they wanted their kids to grow up in a house with a back yard they could play in, rather than in a condo? You take inner-city elitism to new heights, you really do.

  • Joe Just Joe

    While Shane might come across as arrogant (sorry Shane) he does have a point. Sure those families might have moved out there because that’s the only place they could afford with a yard. It is still a choice they made, and there are consequences for that choice. Just like the family that decided to move the family into a small condo to be close to transit also has consequences to be paid. Which situation is better will depend on the family, but the point is you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

  • Shane


    Spare me the 1950’s era attitude and this stuff about “affordability”. Most people can make far better choices with the money they have but they choose not to because they are too good to sacrifice what they believe is important.

    People express their true values when they choose a home to buy. Living in a suburb far away from where you work because is it “better for the kids” is ridiculous when you then have to spend 2 hours + per day away from your kids commuting. Is it really their kids they’re putting first?

    Most of these folks go even further and choose to buy and financially support two cars because they “need” them. If they’d taken the dollars for those car payments and applied it to a monthly mortgage on a more expensive house in a more accessible location, they would have had a far more positive impact on their family’s lifestyle and future net worth. So – I call B.S. on the “affordability” defence.

  • Shane

    Yes, I am coming off as arrogant now aren’t I? Sorry about that. This type of debate definitely gets me goin’ – partcularly when folks dismiss the freedom of choice aspect.

  • gmgw

    Shane, in a sudden burst of insight, said: “Yes, I am coming off as arrogant now aren’t I?”

    In the same way that the Pope comes off as Catholic, yes.