A Cost Comparison of Transportation Modes
Professor Patrick M. Condon is the James Taylor Chair in Landscape and Liveable Environments at the University of British Columbia. He has recently produced (in conjuction with Kari Dow) a paper which examines the sustainability of our public transport choices. In this region we have chosen grade separated rapid transit which is designed to favour faster longer distance commuting. Many people who understand this business have been dubious about the wisdom of this choice, and the main point of that argument was the very high initial capital cost. However, there are other factors that need to be considered too. The most important is the effect on greenhouse gas emissions but also the longer term cost efficiency. “Long term capital, operating, maintenance and replacement costs need to be considered and evaluated to find the most efficient transportation mode.” His department has been working on the Sustainability by Design initiative, and that has provided the sustainability principles used in this paper.
Rather than summarize the paper I will simply provide the link to a pdf file you can download but I have copied from it the conclusions
Based on the three sustainability criteria, reducing trip length, greenhouse
gas reduction, and lifecycle cost, trams represent the best investment. This
investment is entirely dependent, however, on a long term commitment to
balancing jobs and housing and a gradual reduction in the per capita demand
for daily transportation of any kind. If most trips in the region are short then
the rationale for investment in trams is overwhelming. If all trips are long
then the rationale for the very expensive Skytrain system may still hold sway.
Currently our region is at a tipping point between the two. Decisions made
now about which mode to invest in could precipitate very different land use
consequences, consequences lasting for decades. These arguments apply to
every North American metropolitan area. All are struggling with these same
questions. This bulletin does not provide a definitive answer to which path to
take, but attempts to illuminate the significance of the choice. This generation of
citizens and decision makers will determine, by its choices, what the Vancouver
region, presently home for two million residents, will be like when it contains
four million. Hopefully it will be much more sustainable than it is now. How we
spend the billions proposed for investment in transit this decade will likely be
Cost is not the only concern of course. There are a number of other factors that will come into play. Sadly, in this region, we have taken the vierw that as 80% of the trips are made by car, that this “majority” should determine how the rest of us live. Grade separation is not about producing the best transit system for transit users but rather the one that has least impact on car drivers. Other cities long ago decided that cars in and of themselves were the problem. In urban areas the desire to drive imposes huge externalities on the community. People who bring tons of metal with them everywhere they go make huge demands on space -both for moving and parking. The vehicles currently are somewhat better than they once were in terms of local air pollution, but there are so many of them that they still produce air which is not healthy to breathe. They also keep their occupants safer but have a dramatic effect on unprotected humans, and the rate of deaths and injuries would not be acceptable in any other mode of transportation. Mostly, cars defeat the way cities have always worked to bring people together in an environment where all kinds of formal and informal interactions occur. Vibrant city centres have been created in many places where cars have been kept out completely – or at the every least significantly constrained. European cities that tried grade separation for their trams – putting them in tunnels in preparationm for later metro conversion – quickly reversed that policy. Trams now stay on the streets, which are closed to other vehicle traffic, and the economy and sociability of the city centre blossoms.
The reason that I opposed the Canada Line was that it would bring more car traffic to Cambie Street in Vancouver and along No 3 Road in Richmond. The landscape effect of the overhead right of way is also a visual blight on No 3 Road and the damage of cut and cover construction on Cambie Village is well documented. We seem to be about to make the same mistake along Broadway – although as before the province is promising to use bored tube not cut and cover. Why anyone would believe them when they broke the same promise before I do not know. I do know that Broadway could accomodate a lot more people moving capacity than it does now. Good design would make it both safer and pleasanter for residents, shoppers and people who just like to be around other people. Patrick has already demonstrated that the proposed budget for the Broadway tube would pay foir the re-establishment of the Vancouvber streetcar system – and more. Of course some car moving and parking capacity would be lost – but in my view that is a positive not a neagtive outcome. There are much better things that can be achieved in our public realm than the ability to drive fast and park easily.
I am very pleased that he has allowed me to give you all a sneak peak at his paper before its formal publication. I suggest you not only download it but save it somewhere on your computer for ease of reference. It is going to be very useful I think.