Subway to UBC still a financial pipe dream
Column by MIRO CERNETIG, VANCOUVER SUN COLUMNIST MAY 24, 2009
Miro pretty well nails this one with just the simple math that it cannot be justified in cost recovery terms.
Let’s suppose 100,000 people would use that $3-billion rail line — a ridership figure far, far in the future. If it was financed at five per cent a year for 30 years, the actual construction cost to the taxpayer would be $5.8 billion.
That means about $58,000 per rider. Put another way, those 100,000 riders would have to ride the rails every day, seven days a week, for $5 apiece, for more than 30 years to pay down the investment. And that wouldn’t even begin to pay for the system’s operating costs.
Actually it is a great deal worse than that. Firstly because most of the people who would use it, already use transit. So while there is a huge incremental cost there is not nearly as much incremental revenue. They don’t just pay to ride the new subway – they need to use the rest of the system to access it. And, of course, out at UBC many of the users already get an incredible discounted fare deal thanks to U Pass. So the average fare paid per rider is going to me much lower than the system as a whole. Yes there would be some savings – or rather it would free up buses for use elsewhere. But that also frees up more road space on Broadway – just as the Canada Line will take buses off Granville – which will quickly fill up with single occupant cars instead.
What is missing – of course – it always is – is any understanding of how this project would affect the transit mode share. That has not changed much since I arrived in Greater Vancouver 12 years ago. And a UBC subway would not shift it very much either. Miro does capture the spirit of this by pointing out the need to use transit to shape growth rather than serve existing demand. And what he says is as true if you substitute most of the megaproject spending in this region that has happened in recent years and is in current plans. The opening of the Golden Ears Bridge next month does nothing to solve any real transportation problem – it just encourages more sprawl in Maple Meadows – as does the new Pitt River bridges. The Canada Line costs a bundle but has less capacity than many surface LRT lines. The Port Mann and Patullo Bridge replacements will both help to ensure continued car dependency and increase both traffic and emissions.
None of this will impact the threepeat Premier who is now even more convinced that he is unassailable and has a mandate to do as he wishes. And it is not that Miro is better at math than the people who work for the MoT. It is that objective assessment of transport project investment does not happen in BC – and never has done. It is not just the Liberals who make this mistake – the NDP were exactly the same. The Millennium Line and fast ferries would never have passed any objective test – but then they did not have to. The Premier of the day wanted them done. Sadly this may well be what happens again this time around. After all he still thinks the Gateway is a Good Idea!