1999 Broadway Corridor transit study found LRT most expensive, predicted bus service would be at capacity . . . now

As the Translink Mayors Council works to create a regional transportation investment plan to put before voters, the findings of a 1999 study on Broadway Corridor transit options seem eerily prescient.

As those long-ago planners predicted, bus rapid transit on the corridor is bursting at the seams, well ahead of their 2021 estimate,  and light rail options won’t do the job. That left a Skytrain tunnel option at least to Arbutus (combined with rapid bus to UBC) as the best option, because it’s faster, less disruptive and cheaper overall than LRT.

The $200,000 joint study by Translink, Vancouver and the province predicted that rapid bus service from Commercial to UBC would have “its capacity tested in 15 to 20 years.”

Fifteen years later and the 99 B-Line carries more riders than the Millennium Line, despite help from a range of new crosstown routes introduced in the meantime.

(A more recent Translink study has confirmed that it’s time for rail on the corridor.)

The favoured solution in 1999? The report did not make recommendations, but it is striking to see light rail transit was beaten by Skytrain for overall cost and operating cost, not to mention impacts on the nighbourhoods west of Commercial.

As the 1999 report concluded,

“LRT from Commercial to UBC (Alternative 2) has the highest capital cost and annual operating cost. It is also by far the most expensive way of attracting new riders to transit. Rapid Bus (Alternative 1) has the lowest capital cost and is the cheapest way to attract new transit riders.

“SkyTrain to Arbutus (plus Rapid Bus to UBC (Alternative 6) has an intermediate capital cost and an operating cost comparable to Rapid Bus. It has the highest number of new riders and is between Rapid Bus and LRT in terms of cost per new rider. SkyTrain alone is the most expensive technology on a per km basis; however, when combined with Rapid Bus to UBC, the combination costs less than LRT.

“Overall, the study finds that while LRT is high in ridership, if it is designed for competitive operating speed it introduces the greatest impacts by displacing traffic, parking,access and pedestrians. LRT also has the greatest construction impact.

“Rapid Bus may be viewed as an effective interim solution; however, over time it could evolve to a more ‘separated’ operation and resemble LRT in terms of its impact on traffic, parking and other uses of the corridor. Further, its capacity will be tested in 15-20 years.”