Opinion: Expensive train only goes so far

It’s like one of those old Oprah shows where everyone in the audience went away a winner: “You get a car and you get a car and…” The Greater Vancouver version now playing out is more along the lines of: “You get a SkyTrain and you get a SkyTrain and…”

Not long after new Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum insisted the rapid transit expansion in his city should be SkyTrain, not light rail, new Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart is now advocating the extension out to UBC should be – wait for it – SkyTrain, not light rail or express buses.

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I get the desire to expand using the existing infrastructure in order to provide a seamless ride, but this ongoing love affair with SkyTrain is only going to make expansion of our rapid transit system more problematic. The technology is so prohibitively expensive that we’re only able to add a new line every decade, so if we continue to hook our wagon to SkyTrain, the idea of rapid transit reaching more folks in the region becomes little more than a pipe dream.

The cost of the Surrey expansion goes from $1.65 billion to an anticipated $2.9 billion when the project switches from light rail to SkyTrain, yet another example that you get far less bang for your buck. The two phases of a possible Broadway-UBC subway line would be in the $7 billion range for what amounts to about 12 kilometres of track.

These kinds of exorbitant costs mean we can only afford to build so much SkyTrain, evidenced by the limited network we have 35 years after embarking on this fateful journey, a fact not lost on many regional mayors. They’re becoming increasingly vocal as a feeling of neglect takes hold, which is only going to intensify because if it’s always going to be SkyTrain, rapid transit isn’t going too far.

There’s no way SkyTrain makes sense out here, but some form of rapid transit to get across the river and out to the ferry terminal seems logical, and I suspect similar arguments for service could be made in other corners of our spread out and single family-centric region.

Those kinds of projects, however, can only proceed if the powers that be finally acknowledge that an elevated (or underground) train isn’t the only option for Greater Vancouver and start delivering rapid transit in a different way.

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