The City of Surrey has often stated, including on its current Rapid Transit Now advocacy page, that 3 Light Rail Transit (LRT) lines across the city would cost less than building SkyTrain to Langley. This claim is incorrect, and it may also be based on outdated data.
The latest cost estimate values in the Surrey Rapid Transit Study  anticipate that the capital cost at the assumed year of expenditure (i.e. when all work is complete, anticipated to be 2019 in the study) of alternative RRT1 is $1.8 billion, which is lower than the capital cost estimate of alternative LRT1 ($2.18 billion). When inflation to year of expenditure is not considered and costs are measured in proper 2010 dollars (year of study commencement), alternative LRT1 presents a capital cost of $1.99 billion versus RRT1’s $1.645 billion. This means the cost of 3 LRT lines is 21% higher (and not less) than SkyTrain to Langley.
When the net present value (NPV) of costs (which also account for operating costs as well as fare revenues – which are dependent on ridership) is compared, alternative LRT1 presents a capital cost of $1.63 billion versus RRT1’s $1.26 billion. This means that the net present total cost of 3 LRT lines is 29.3% higher (and not less) than SkyTrain to Langley, and is comparable to the net present cost of a SkyTrain extension to Langley with bus rapid transit (BRT) on other corridors.
However, Light Rail costs considerably more than SkyTrain in the study when the NPV of benefits (which accounts for measurable transportation and greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction benefits) is added to the comparison. Light Rail generates less of both, because slower service speed generates less transportation benefits and also results in less ridership, less new transit trips, and less GHG emission reduction. As a result of a low NPV benefit that does not exceed the NPV cost, alternative LRT1 has a total net present value (NPV benefits – NPV costs) of negative $510 million. When compared to alternative RRT1’s positive $690 million net present value (among the best of alternatives), alternative LRT1 costs 235% more than alternative RRT1.
For the City of Surrey, LRT has been largely about an incorrect perception that it will cost less since Mayor Dianne Watts announced a campaign for it in April 2011 and again in March 2012. This campaign has never been backed up with accurate claims, and the City of Surrey has still not released an actual, statistical written case for building LRT instead of SkyTrain.