LETTER TO THE EDITOR: LRT in Surrey won’t fly, stick with SkyTrain – Vancouver Sun

SkyTrain and Light Rail

Readers from around Metro Vancouver might have noticed writing from Better Surrey Rapid Transit’s campaign director in today’s issue of the Vancouver Sun.

The newsletter by Campaign Director Daryl Dela Cruz presents a strong message about the weak business case of LRT in Surrey, how the LRT pursuit weakens Surrey’s case for any rapid transit, and the need to pursue different options in order to make rapid transit in Surrey a reality.

LRT in Surrey won’t fly, stick with SkyTrain

Re: Surrey eyes dollars destined for infrastructure across country, March 22

Rapid transit decisions are about more than just capital cost.

There are other costs and measurable benefits that need to be considered. These together make up two different and more relevant numbers called “net present value” and “benefit-cost ratio,” which form the business case that determines the feasibility of a rapid transit project for approval and funding.

According to TransLink’s recently released final evaluations, Surrey’s preferred LRT option has a benefit-cost ratio of 0.69: 1 (meaning that every $1 invested will generate just $0.69 in cost return) and a net present value of negative $510 million. It is the worst out of all the options.

I have no idea how Surrey is supposed to get senior-level government funding, as needed to make any rapid transit a reality, if that is the business case for their preferred option. It is like trying to hit your target, but deliberately putting your foot in front of the barrel.

Surrey LRT will never become a reality.

I’ve been telling the city for two years to put LRT to rest and consider the positive benefit-cost ratios presented by SkyTrain options.

Daryl Dela Cruz
Campaign director at Better Surrey Rapid Transit

Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

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Slide 1

PRESENTATION: Rapid transit and Surrey’s needs

Rapid Transit and Surrey’s needs

Examining the modal shift in TransLink’s Surrey Rapid Transit Study alternatives

This is a presentation document that Better Surrey Rapid Transit prepared for a 2013 presentation to the City of Surrey Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

The full 62-slide presentation can be downloaded at [CLICK HERE]. For its online release on our site, the presentation has been split into its 5 segments, which can be individually viewed below:

Metrotown Station in 2006

DEBUNKING MYTHS: “LRT will bring mid-rises, SkyTrain will bring towers”

From Daryl Dela Cruz, Better Surrey Rapid Transit Campaign Director

Why does the City of Surrey have a Mayor that seems to have no idea of what she can do as mayor? Maybe I should be Mayor, because I apparently know more than she does about how cities can control land use.

A recent Vancouver Sun issue mentioned a comment by her on one of the reasons she is in support of Light Rail Transit over SkyTrain in Surrey. This is the comment:

Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts, who is pushing for light rail transit in her city, said she doesn’t expect to see the same problems in Surrey as Coquitlam or Burnaby, mainly because at-grade rail won’t bring the same densification pressures. Also, the corridors designated for the proposed light rail lines are already a mix of high density residential and commercial.

“We will densify but we’re not going to have to tear homes down,” she said. “Where we’ve got our corridors, we have enough space to implement at-grade rail.”

She said that’s one reason Surrey wants at-grade light rail rather than the elevated SkyTrain technology. “We wouldn’t have to get rid of housing.”

From the Vancouver Sun – In Metro Vancouver, densification is the price paid for transit [LINK]

Popular blogger Paul Hillsdon said this too, in a recent article he posted on Civic Surrey.

My point has been that it is a question of how much density a community is willing to have. LRT will bring mid-rises, while SkyTrain is almost guaranteed to bring towers.

From Civic Surrey [LINK]

This myth has to be ended. There seems to be a common (correction: FAR too common) consensus that “LRT will bring mid-rises, while SkyTrain is almost guaranteed to bring towers.” This is completely false. What land use is attracted to rapid transit and then actually built should have nothing to do with what mode-type of rapid transit is built, because everything can be restricted by the city’s land use policies. If an extension of SkyTrain in Surrey creates a push for densification (i.e. developers are encouraged to build skyscrapers all along the line and launch rezoning applications to see if the city will allow it), the City of Surrey does not have to approve these proposals and can restrict the maximum density of zoning along the line as it pleases.

For example: while SkyTrain has the potential to attract towers, SkyTrain also has the potential to attract mid-rise development if that is what the city wants, and restrictions and control of developer applications by City Council can help ensure that mid-rise developments are what is built around SkyTrain stations. The City of Richmond has been doing a great job at formulating an innovative land use plan around downtown Richmond and its Canada Line Stations that controls development proposals to ensure that certain stations create distinct districts around each one of them (i.e. commercial districts oriented around a certain culture or aura).

The Canada Line in Richmond integrates exceptionally well with the urban environment.

An example of a Canada Line integration plan

There’s a reason that many stations on the current SkyTrain system such as 29th Avenue, Nanaimo Station, and Lake City Way continue to be surrounded by low-density developments. The city which the SkyTrain line is passing through has not made the necessary modifications to land use zoning policies in these areas – and while better opportunities with lower developer risk for transit-oriented development still exist around many SkyTrain Stations and high-density areas (such as Surrey City Centre itself), developers have seen no need to push for any rezoning applications at these locations because not only will they face the cost, but they may face opposition from the property owners they will displace.

In my opinion, Mayor Watts is just saying this in desperation, because she is running out of legitimate reasons to advocate for Light Rail over SkyTrain. I have been debunking everything. I’m the challenger to her proposal that, as she pointed out back in her April 2011 State of the City speech, did not exist. Tonight or tomorrow, I’m going to be releasing a huge response to the 536-page Surrey Rapid Transit Study final analysis that should put a nail in the coffin for Light Rail Transit as a feasible solution in any way for the City of Surrey.

Mayor Watts, even Paul Hillsdon has changed his mind and is willing to endorse SkyTrain. It’s about time that you do the same.

DOWNLOAD: Final Surrey Rapid Transit Report

Better Surrey Rapid Transit is currently using this 536-page report to conduct a comprehensive modal share review that will be released in the coming days.

This report was shortly seen on the TransLink website recently, but has been taken down from there.

The report has returned to the TransLink website and is also available for download there.


Metrotown Station in 2006

DEBUNKING MYTHS: Coun. Rasode, Light Rail and a wrong perspective on Business Impact

From the Surrey Leader [LINK]

“We’ve been very clear that our option would be LRT, not just because of the cost but because it is less intrusive to the community,” Rasode said.

Light rail passengers riding at street level would be more likely to stop and shop at Surrey businesses, she said, than an overhead SkyTrain whisking residents to other cities.

A comment from Daryl Dela Cruz, BSRT Campaign Director

While the idea that passengers will have a better view of local businesses from ground level than from an elevated SkyTrain line is certainly not invalid, what is invalid is that this is a reason that at-grade Light Rail is going to bring better business than an elevated SkyTrain line. I want to challenge this particularly because it goes by an assumption of equality, something that doesn’t exist between Light Rail and SkyTrain as rapid transit modes because they are not the same.

As grade-separated rapid transit, SkyTrain has the opportunity of running faster and more frequently. What this does is attract more new riders, because riders have faster and better options for getting around without the use of a car.

In TransLink’s recent rapid transit study outlook, it was predicted that a SkyTrain extension to Langley with bus rapid transit (BRT) segments to Guildford and Newton/White Rock would attract twice as many new riders (24,000 vs 12,000) as a full Light Rail Transit (LRT) network across the city, in spite of the use of inferior BRT on 104th Ave and King George Blvd.

It is competitive level of service and higher ridership, not the ability to see more businesses from the line at-grade, that stands to bring business benefits to those located near rapid transit. Therefore, Ms. Rasode’s claim is largely invalid.

Metrotown Station in 2006

There’s a reason that Metropolis at Metrotown is the most popular shopping destination in the lower mainland, in spite of the fact that you can’t see any of the businesses from the rapid transit line at all because everything is indoors or on Kingsway!

Better Surrey Rapid Transit

SkyTrain for Surrey is relaunching as “Better Surrey Rapid Transit”

Better Surrey Rapid Transit

A message from your campaign leaders for Better Surrey Rapid Transit

Regular readers or past visitors of this website may have noticed that there has been a distinct change in the website style, home page, and arrangement of pages and information.

This is because we’re relaunching the former SkyTrain for Surrey Initiative as “Better Surrey Rapid Transit, in an effort to tone down the controversy and open up the Initiative as a more understandable, more supportable and more credible campaign for South of Fraser residents to follow and offer their support. The site URL is still skytrainforsurrey.org and will remain the same.

The website design is still under active construction, with elements such as a “call for action” page and a “vision” page still missing. These items are being worked on and will be launched in stages leading up to a target action date. Our new MailChimp-based e-mail subscription system (detailed below) will help keep subscribers detailed to site changes and courses of action taken by Better Surrey Rapid Transit.

The new website features a new home page centered on the campaign purpose – but as part of the redesign, our previous blog-style posts and homepage are still visible by visiting skytrainforsurrey.org/blog. The Better Surrey Rapid Transit blog is easier to navigate with categorized posts (visible on the sidebar to the right), and will continue to launch new information that is relevant to the Surrey rapid transit planning discussion. Other potentially relevant posts may be found on the campaign director’s personal blog at darylvsworld.wordpress.com.

We hope that the new website presents our concerns in an easier and more straightforward manner for our readers. Thank you for considering your support for Better Surrey Rapid Transit.

Respectfully yours, from your Better Surrey Rapid Transit campaign leaders

Daryl Dela Cruz – Campaign director, exec of statistics analysis
Benedic Dasalla – Exec of marketing & communication strategy
Neo Caines – Exec of infrastructure analysis

Contact us: info@skytrainforsurrey.org


Site readers may have also noticed that we are “petition ready.” Parts of our site are designed to integrate with a future online petition, as a way of taking action and telling decision-makers that they should be considering the concerns of Better Surrey Rapid Transit. We’re preparing to launch this petition and a large push for our concern in the coming months, along with a new case study and a presentation on the case for SkyTrain in Surrey.

You can be notified of when we launch this petition by subscribing to us by e-mail. Click on [THIS LINK] to be notified of our campaign launches, and stay up-to-date with the latest info on Surrey transit issues and the Surrey rapid transit planning process.

Alternatively, you can scan the QR Code below:

British study questions LRT’s ability to change commute habits

From the SurreySide blog, managed by Patrick Johnston, who writes occasional posts looking at development, city planning and transportations in Surrey, BC.

Trains for Surrey: Light rail is far from the perfect solution to reducing congestion – Cardiff University study.

An interesting report over at The Atlantic Cities on a UK study about the impact of light rail on commuter mode-choice.

The study by researchers at Cardiff University  has found that simply building light rail doesn’t seem to reduce car usage:

Growing rail shares in the light rail corridors have mainly come from buses and the evidence for light rail reducing car use is less clear. This latter finding is of particular significance, given that a major justification for investment in light rail rather than bus schemes is their presumed ability to bring about major modal shift by attracting substantial numbers of car users.

The researchers found that what light rail does do is reduce usage loads on buses:

A similar new study of British light rail systems comes away far less hopeful. In an upcoming issue of the Journal of Transport Geography, planners Shin Lee and Martyn Senior of Cardiff University found that the evidence for light rail reducing car use is unclear. Lee and Senior discovered that car ownership and car commute share often continue to rise in these corridors, and that ridership growth is often the result of travelers shifting over from buses — not cars.

For their study, Lee and Senior look at four light rail systems completed from 1991 to 2001: the Manchester Metrolink (built in two phases), the South Yorkshire Supertram, and Midland Metro, and the Croydon Tramlink. To determine the impact these lines had on their respective corridors, the researchers located nearby “control” areas to represent travel behavior that might have occurred if the systems hadn’t been built. The control and light rail areas had similar car ownership levels before 1991, similar rail commuter shares, and a similar distance to nearby city centers.

The Atlantic’s Eric Jaffe does not some concern about aspects of the study but also finds an important lesson:

The work makes a good contribution to our understanding of urban transit, but it has some severe caveats. The study’s biggest limitation is that it focused on the simple existence of light rail — not the quality of its service, or for that matter other factors like density or development or demographics. In the case of the Midland corridor, for instance, all of the findings are compromised by the fact that a major road was built parallel to the light rail line; a city that creates an incentive to drive shouldn’t be surprised when people do.

With that in mind, the work still underscores some important lessons. For starters, it offers a sound piece of advice: cities considering a light rail system should strongly consider whether improving the local bus system would be cheaper and just as effective. It also provides yet another reminder of the irrational love people have for their cars; getting city residents to give up driving often requires more than just offering them a ride.

Anyone who has observed commuters in the Lower Mainland can cite plenty of people who still drive despite having a viable transit alternative.

Surrey’s transportation planners should keep this in mind.

Bus line-ups for the 320 during the PM Rush

FEB 26th – Surrey CiTI to host Surrey Transit Rally at Central City Plaza

Transportation advocacy group “Surrey Citizens’ Transportation Initiative” (Surrey CiTI) have announced a “Surrey Transit Rally” to take place at Central City Plaza on February 26th. Details below:


Better Public Transit
– for Surrey -

Feb.26, 2013 – 3:30-5:30PM – SFU Campus Plaza

  Speakers, live music, support march
& your participation


>3:30 – 4:15 PM – intro. music & speakers
>4:15 – 5:00 PM – march & music
>5:00 – 5:30 PM – music, speakers & windup

Your opportunity to:

  • advocate for better public transit
  • push for more affordable public transit
  • ensure HandyDart stays healthy
  • oppose TransLink’s planned bus service cuts
  • push for fair and sustainable transit funding
  • promote multimodal transit options
  • connect with other concerned citizens

More Info?

Contact:Surrey CiTI – surreyciti@yahoo.ca

Click here to download a printable poster

Portland's MAX light rail, the inspiration for Surrey's LRT plans, is not a profitable transit system.

Light Rail Transit has a high operating cost per service hour

A comparison of LRT operating costs per service hour vs the operating cost per service hour of SkyTrain. See below table:

City System Operating cost per revenue service hour in 2011
Calgary C-Train LRT $200 [1]
Salt Lake City UTA TRAX $124.01 [2][3]
Portland MAX LRT $187.55 [2]
Phoenix Metro Light Rail $180.35 [2][3]
Houston METRO Rail $200 [3]
Philadelphia SEPTA Subway-Surface Trolley $166.26 [2]
Boston Green Line $216.45 [2][3]
San Diego Trolley $137.67 [2][3]
Vancouver SkyTrain (Expo/Millennium Line) $76.14 [4]

These values will become part of a new study that is being created by SkyTrain for Surrey analysts; it will measure SkyTrain vs LRT operating costs in Surrey, and how they affect the net present cost (capital + operating cost over lifetime).


  1. Stated – Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Network Plan for Calgary, Calgary Transit, on page 28 of 72
  2. U.S. Federal Transit Administration – National Transit Database 2011 database – Compiled for easy viewing on About.com Guide
  3. National Transit Database presentation by the U.S. Federal Transit Administration – Graph on page 21
  4. Extrapolated value. Based on:
    1. 1.3 million annual service hour statement for TransLink rapid transit services, stated on 2011 Statutory Annual Report on page 19 – minus 91,250 Canada Line service hours (calculated, based on a standard service hour calculation formula used by all transit agencies).
    2. Expo/Millennium Line 2011 annual operations/maintenance costs, excluding capital asset amortization – 2011 financial & performance review, page 26
City of Vancouver - completing the region's rapid transit network

Regional transit sales tax: Mayors eye popular funding tool for rapid transit

Metro Vancouver mayors have made a proposal on potential funding tools that could aid in providing a significant amount of funding for TransLink operations and for capital investments like rapid transit.

At 0.5 per cent the tax – tacked on top of the seven per cent PST on transactions within Metro Vancouver – would raise an estimated $250 million per year from transactions within Metro Vancouver, according to a technical analysis that examined potential new sources.

Surrey Leader – Regional sales tax in Metro Vancouver proposed for TransLink

The funding idea is reminiscent of the half-cent sales tax that was introduced in Metropolitan Los Angeles for the same purpose of funding transit investments, called “Measure J“. Measure J was approved in 2008, and approves a half cent sales tax increase to fund new transit investments to the year 2039. A proposal was made to extend Measure J’s half-cent tax increase to 2069; but, sadly, this failed to receive adequate voter support to go forward (falling short by just 2%).

It has been explored in other cities in Canada. The City of Toronto has found that a 1% sales tax could net as much as $1.3 billion for improved transit in greater Toronto, and an opinion poll found a 74% support rate from the general public; nearby city Mississauga likes the idea as well.

Other cities and areas that have recently voted in a transit sales tax in North America include San Francisco; Seattle; Boulder, Colorado; Augusta and Columbus, Georgia; Orange County (part of metro Los Angeles), and possibly several more. Charlotte, NC may have been a pioneer of this idea; it had a sales tax for transit voted in as early as 1998, 15 years ago.