Friday, July 16, 2010

Light Rail, what would it take to make sense?

In looking at different light rail systems through out North America, there seems to be a threshold of 100,000 passenger trips at which point light rail construction and operational costs come to a point of being economically sustainable.  

Currently Victoria Regional Transit has about 96,000 passenger trips per week day, this is actually quite a high percentage of the population using transit and is a better result than many US cities with rail based transit.   One of the biggest reasons we do not have higher transit use is because a very large portion of the public either walks or bikes to work.   16.1% of the people in the CRD walk or bike to work, in the City of Victoria it is 1/3.

Rail based transit goes in a line from point A to point B and needs to have significant populations needing to make use of the line.   The two biggest destinations in the region are UVic and Downtown and both are destinations, is there any place you could gather enough people to make sense to transport them to either location?

The tree SkyTrain lines in Vancouver have more passenger trips per day than the total population of the CRD.   This should give people an idea of the difference of scale between Vancouver and Victoria.

For comparison, UBC has 46,000 students and UVic has 19,000.   UBC is located in such a way to force the vast majority of people to live at least 3 km away, UVic has a large percentage of the students living within 3 km.   UBC does not yet have a rapid transit line out it even though there is a much higher demand than for UVic, though the latest plans speak of the idea of having a line out to UBC in ten years time.

SFU  on Burnaby Mountain is comparable in size to UVic but is really not located within walking/biking distance for people to get to.  There is no discussion of rail transit to SFU anytime soon.  There is more of a demand and need for rail rapid transit in the lower mainland than here in the CRD.

Downtown is the other major destination in our region, but the public comes from a host of different directions to get there. The first SkyTrain line in Metro Vancouver runs from Surrey to Downtown going through an area with a population twice as large as Greater Victoria.

The one big point huge amounts of traffic passes through is the spot where Uptown Centre is, but is there enough traffic there to justify a rail link to either UVic or Downtown?

In Canada six cities have some form of rail based transit, they also happen to be the six largest in Canada.   The smallest is Edmonton is three times the size of Victoria.   Winnipeg, Hamilton, Halifax, London, Kitchner, St Catherine's and Oshawa are all larger than Victoria and all are located in places that do not allow for nearly as much walking and biking to work.  

The LRT in Edmonton is one the smallest in Canada and it has 74,000 passenger trips a day.  This is more than the total transit traffic in Victoria.

The O-Train in Ottawa is even smaller, it uses an 8km stretch of existing grade separated railway.  It has a current daily passenger load of 13,600 but costs more per passenger to operate than the buses.   Because the line is only 8km long and grade separated, the OTrain can get from one end to the other in less than 15 minutes.  The OTrain also operates from 6:30 am to 12:30 am, 18 hours a day.   It also operates on weekends.     The OTrain does not move a lot of people but due to its configuration it is less costly to operate than most.   We have no comparable location here in Victoria and would have to build anything like this from scratch.

Is there a location we could build an 8km long grade separated line that could take about 13% of our transit traffic?   Clearly this could not be anything coming in from the Westshore and would have to be something replacing the busiest bus routes.  Tillicum to UVic?   Esquimalt Dockyard via Downtown to UVic?   The cost to built these lines would be very, very expensive.

As far as I can see, there is no obvious location where there is enough traffic in our region that could support rail based transit.  We may be decent users of transit, but we are still very far from the numbers needed to make any rail system work.   As I said earlier, there is a unique impediment to increases in transit in this region, and this is the large number of people that walk and bike to work.
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