Thursday, August 28, 2008

Announcement of Transit Study Creates Mass Confusion

An article that appeared on August 22, 2008 on BCLOCALNEWS.COM appears to have created some confusion with some local transportation pundants. As we have all been anticipating a big Ministry of Transportation's long-awaited light rail transit/interurban study that we all anticipated would encompass the entire South Fraser Region. When news of the MoT's RFQ entitled "Strategic Review of Transit in the Fraser Valley", one can understand why some people declared that this RFQ (that is supposed to become an RFP very soon) was the much anticipated study that was promised by BC Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon.

BUT, back on August 8, 2008 the South Fraser OnTrax blog first reported about a transportation study that would be initiated by the Fraser Valley Regional District (FVRD). As most of our readers are aware, the FVRD covers only the member communities of the City of Abbotsford, City of Chilliwack, District of Hope, District of Kent, District of Mission and the Village of Harrison Hot Springs. In July, 2008 some Terms of Reference have been compiled for the project, and FVRD staff commented on them on July 21, 2008. But as our readers can see from these highlighted sections of FVRD Minutes for May 27, 2008, shows that the FVRD Board of Directors voted in favour of a Consulting Services contract for the FVRD Transportation and Transit study. It further agreed to single-source this contract to SILEX CONSULTING INC. It should be noted that on January 31, 2008, the same SILEX CONSULTING INC. issued a draft report to the FVRD entitled, "Background Paper: Developing a Transportation Vision for the FVRD."

While BCLOCALNEWS.COM reported a Ministry of Transportation official as saying this study will look at the Southern Rail corridor, the scope of the study will certainly have to take into account the research and conclusions that have been established by the Provincial Transit Plan (PTP), TransLink 2040 Vision & Area Transit Plans, BC Transit Business Plan, and the Fraser Valley Regional District - Regional Growth Strategy, which are all refererenced in the RFQ. I'm certain this study will not overlook the FVRD's Background Paper as well, especially if Silex Consulting Inc is awarded this contract. How can this FVRD-sponsored report be ignored? The FVRD study has a budget of $400,000 according to the RFQ.

South Fraser OnTrax is current contacting Minister Kevin Falcon's office to confirm whether this RFQ is the same light rail study that has been long-promised by the ministry, perhaps as long as 18 months ago.

South Fraser OnTrax commends the FVRD, Ministry of Transportation, TransLink, and BC Transit for being able to take on this new initiative in light of 2010 Olympics, and all the projects that are in progress in support of 2010. If the time lines in the RFQ are upheld, this project's final report will be completed by December, 2009. The RFQ currently lists an interim milestone year of 2013 to gauge at a conceptual level, the phasing, needed resources ad initiatives for the scenarios outlined in the RFQ. Some have recently questioned this planning date, but with 2010 being combined with knowledge of the government budgeting, planning and scheduling process, it seems like a very realistic date to us.

But let's take a peek at reality here:
  1. None of the reports and research have ever concluded that light rail transit would be an option for the FVRD or the South Fraser for that matter.
  2. There is great discussion and mention of bus and rapid bus in the TOR and the related reports.
  3. BC Transit is a stakeholder and they run buses.
  4. This work is focused on providing options for service in 2020 to 2030. It is anticipated and assumed that the actual funding of the results of this project will not commence conceptually until 2013.
My personal prediction (as well as Nathan's) for the outcome of this study that could save the Province of BC and the FVRD $400,000 today:
  1. Continue bus service and ValleyMAX with the current population of the FVRD estimated at 260,000. Dramatically increase bus service as required.
  2. As the population of the FVRD is predicted to be 410,000 by 2030, BC Transit will then be happy to consider "new transit types (such as Rapid Bus)".
  3. Take all of the current individual FVRD member contracts with BC Transit and turn them into a single master regional contract.
Now #3 would command all of the big bucks. Wand some cost-efficient details added in, this would be viewed as a bargain by the FVRD for sure. But why would we, the light rail transit advocates who live, eat and sleep this every day put forth such blasphemy?

All one has to do is read the Executive Summary of the January 31, 2008 Silex report to see the self-fulfilling prophecy in the making:

Page 1 - A region at a cross-road - "The materials in the background paper on transportation identified and confirms much of what was documented in earlier studies and reports including the FVRD's 2004 "Choices for Our Future" Regional Growth Strategy and the 2000 Long Range Transportation Plan. These documents remain substantially valid today, and together set out many of the key attributes of a transportation vision for the valley and its communities. As such, while a few matters need to be updated, it is concluded that there is no need for a new set of "plans" to address the issues the FVRD faces."

Page 1 - Expanding Transit - "What is more, any proposals to expand transit should consider the needs of all communities and not be confined to Abbotsford, Chilliwack and Mission."

So, even though Abby is much different in terms of densification than say Hope, any expansion of transit should be across the board. This is a re-occurring theme in the Silex report.

Page 2 - Expanding Transit - "However the returns on transit investments will not yield optimum benefits unless the region's communities densify considerably and create truly pedestrian bicycle friendly communities."

"A further comment on transit is that while there is some appetite for expanded rail into the valley. The current reality is that the levels of demand can easily be met, probably for many decades, with rubber-tired solutions."

The report goes on to contradict itself in that it stated the current plans are adequate, but section 1.3 on page 2 of the main report says that the existing data is "inconsistent and often limited or poor data available."

It further states, "The valley's rapidly growing urban centres only occupy around 1 percent of the land in the FVRD..."

Silex does document the fact that 86% of the traffic is local or stays within the region (or inter-region with Langley and nearby communities), and that 39% of daily trips by people within the FVRD are to Langley. The report and the RFQ speak about 2040 planning and the RFQ speaks to the TransLink 2040 documents. So, long-range planning has been addressed in the context of the FVRD, contrary to what some pundants have have said.

Read the Silex report for yourself and look at the other documents that we have assembled for your review. It will give you a fairly clear picture of what could result from this new study. Of course the more viable LRT communities of Langley and Surrey will not be a primary focus of this work. The danger here is that the results of this study could preclude LRT in the near future for the South Fraser Region as a whole, unless Minister Falcon has a yet to be announced passenger rail study waiting in the wings and that will address these other expanding communities.

We asked Township of Langley Councillor Jordan Bateman to review our materials, as he is very familiar with the transportation issues in the South Fraser. We offered our joint assessment of the facts to the media today, so that the public will be better informed as to what this study is all about. We also held the publishing of this blog until all sources could be interviewed and all documentation could be double-checked. I've been working away at validation, along with Nathan and Jordan since the news broke. Stay tuned. Your comments are most welcome!


Light Rail Guy said...

But where has Rapid bus worked?

- Not in Essen.
- Not in Adelaide.
- Not in Ottawa.
- Not in the USA, where RapidBus projects have cost more than light rail projects.
- Not in Europe, where the new and improved Rapid Bus - Guided Bus, which sales have all but stalled.


Because light rail/tram/streetcar engineers have cut the cost of new construction to about $7 million/km. to $10 million/km., cheaper than rapid/guided bus construction.

Transit planning in the GVRD/FVRG has been and always will be high farce, always dependant on 'rubber-on-asphalt solutions.

Joe Zaccaria said...

That's 100% correct about BRT and at least 13 communities in North America are currently replacing their Rapid Bus systems with light rail. I might add that the replacement does not come from massive ridership that now forms the basis for LRT, rather the BRT didn't attract choice riders and LRT does.

But it all seems like a new toy to TransLink and despite BRT not working in other places, we are going to do it here anyway. But that's the BC way, Isn't it?