Earlier this week, I received an email from a transit advocate that was bashing one transit technology over another transit technology. That email got me thinking again about how much energy gets wasted fighting over transit technologies amount those that advocate for improved transit in Metro Vancouver. In our region, you can find one blog that advocates for SkyTrain and bashes light rail, and another blog that advocates for light rail and bashes SkyTrain. I must admit that I used to fall into the “SkyTrain is bad, build only light rail” camp, but over the years I’ve come to realize that every type of transit technology has a potential role to play in our region.
In 2010, I attended a lecture by Jarrett Walker called “A Field Guide to Transit Quarrels”. Walker made the point that we spend too much time talking about what he calls transit “vehicle-love” and not enough time talking about what makes a great transit system. He noted that all things being equal, the choice of transit vehicle should be determined by the capacity that is needed on a route.
I believe a great transit system needs to be frequent, reliable, and accessible. It must connect people to the things they want or need to do. In some cases that might mean building out the regular frequent transit network on mixed-traffic roads. In other cases, it might mean providing some form of prioritized bus service from installing queue jumper lanes to building full-blown bus rapid transit. Other cases might involve expanding the SkyTrain network or building a new light rail system. The real key is to make sure that land-use decisions focus on building communities that are accessible by walking, cycling, and transit. When it comes to transit, we need to make sure that we link all land-use decisions with the right-sized transit technology that will provide frequent, reliable, and accessible service as we live in a world with financial constraints. TransLink called this a multiply account evaluation.
To be honest, there is no shortage of plans on what type of transit to build in what parts of this region. What there seems to be today is a lack of political will in some orders of government to provide the funding tools to build the transit system that our region desperately needs.
Instead of fighting over transit technology, as transit advocates, we should be working together to spread the word that building accessible communities are good for the economy, our pocket books, our health, and the environment. We should also be pushing the province to stop playing games around transit funding and advocating for a federal sustainable transportation funding program. Once stable funding for transit is in places, we can discuss “lines on a map.”