British Columbia Needs a Passenger Transportation Plan

The Future is Active and Electric


Transportation is being transformed by new realities including an aging population; mobile communications technology; the end of inexpensive energy and resources; rising health care costs due to inactivity and collisions; the need to reduce environmental impacts; and a generation of young people for whom driving is not a priority. The emergence of car and bike sharing along with mobile communications technology is changing personal mobility from a consumer product to a service.

Currently, there is no Province-wide plan integrating the various initiatives, projects, services and transportation authorities including BC Ferries, the BC Transit Plan, the Cascades High-Speed Rail, the Gateway Program, the Island Corridor, BC Transit and TransLink.

Projects and systems are being planned in isolation without consideration of the long-term provincial context: the Massey Tunnel, Surrey Rapid Transit, the BC Ferries Review, the Pattullo Bridge, the E & N corridor and so on. These initiatives will cost billions of dollars and there is little or no overall coordination.

In light of the new realities, British Columbia is in need of a long-term passenger transportation plan that will provide residents and visitors with safe, convenient, affordable transportation options between cities and towns connecting to with current and planned transportation networks in neighbouring provinces and states. This plan should integrate rail, bus, ferries, airports, land use, cycling and walking into seemless combined mobility solutions.

Also needed are secure funding sources that are aligned with the objectives and the goals of the plan.A coordinated plan would provide higher levels services, lower travel times at less cost to the provincial government and passengers while minimizing environmental impact, congestion and collisions. It would also help met goals of producing compact livable communities where people do not have to use personal motor vehicles.

Such a plan would enable efficient use the capacity of existing and planned road and transit infrastructure. This could delay or eliminate the need for costly capacity upgrades of bridges and tunnels thus allowing capital funds to be used on other projects. This also maximizes revenues and decreases operating costs thus minimizing the subsidies required for given levels of service. Good connections to intercity ferries and rail could also improve the business case for rapid transit lines enabling their completion to be advances.

It also could affect the prioritization of rapid transit investment.Most BC communities and regions including the CRD and Metro Vancouver have produced transportation plans. However, without knowing where provincial intercity transportation routes and stations will be, decisions may be make that will not be optimal.

The Provincial Transit Plans outlines goals, objectives, routes and projects for regional transportation. It does not define such for inter-regional transportation. The South Coast Transportation Act does provide the opportunity for communities east to Hope and North to Squamish to join but so far, that have chosen not to. Without a provincial transportation plan, it will be more difficult to make decisions on where to put development and transportation projects.

There is also a need to reserve right-of-ways, station sites, dock sites, rail yards and other space required for multi-modal hubs. With expensive land prices and pressure to develop land, right-of-ways and other land required to support transportation can easily be lost greatly increasing the cost of transportation projects by then requiring expensive tunnels or elevated structures.

Even other transportation can impact future intercity transportation right-of-ways. For example, the construction of the Millennium Line and the Highway 1 widening may opportunities for high speed rail along these corridors.


Mobile Communications

For many people, mobile communications is now more essential socially and economically than owning a car. With smart phones, laptops and tablets, ime spent in transit and rail can now be productive economically and socially. Transportation expert Tom Vanderbuilt has queried that it is not mobile devices that are distracting people from driving, in reality it is driving that is distracting people from mobile devices. If we don’t provide such forms of transportation, we will be less economically competitive and BC will have challenges attracting the talent required to build the economy of the future.

The Cost of Collisions

Then there is the horrific human cost of motor vehicle collisions. Transport Canada estimates the societal cost of collisions amounts to around 3% of GDP. Collisions are also responsible for around 20% of congestion. Delays caused by collisions are typically long and random and thus have the greatest impact on travel time predictability.

Reducing motor vehicle distance traveled by providing people with safer options such as rail is one of the most effective ways to reduce collisions, injuries and fatalities. Intercity travel is typically higher speed and thus better options could have a significant impact on collisions, injuries and fatalities.

Electric Oriented Transportation System
Our current transportation system is built around and made possible by gasoline. Gasoline has high energy content for its weight and volume, is inexpensive to store and can refuel vehicles quickly. These properties enable people to own one relatively inexpensive vehicle that can be used both for short urban trips and long trips across the province, country or continent.
While it may not be the best or most efficient form of transportation for many types of trips, gasoline powered automobiles are obviously good enough for a very large percentage of people. Electricity, on the other hand, is more difficult effectively store. Batteries are expensive and much heavier than gasoline per unit of energy. It takes much longer to charge batteries than it does to refill a gas tank. For short slow speed trips, trips Long intercity trips in BC are particularly challenging for battery powered vehicles due to:

  • Long distances
  • Step grades
  • Lack of grid access for recharging
  • Weather extremes
  • More passengers and gear = more weight
  • Larger vehicles for gear and passengers
  • High speeds to cover long distances

All these factors combine to increase the power required and thus increase the size and the cost of the batteries needed. When most trips are short urban trips, it is not cost and energy effective to drive the vehicles needed for long trips everyday. Without other options for long distance trips, given the choice between buying the very expensive electric vehicle required for long trips and a much cheaper gas powered one, many people will likely chose the gas-powered one.

For longer distances, it is much more efficient to draw electric power from the grid rather than store it in batteries. As such, electric high-speed rail is an ideal compliment to lightweight battery powered urban vehicles.

For trips up to 20km, electric bicycles a good solution for many people especially in hilly BC communities. They are becoming very popular in countries including the Netherland and China. In China, 30 million per year are sold compared with 23 million automobiles. The main barrier as with regular bicycles is the lack of safe-comfortable all ages cycling infrastructure. Golf cart sized electric vehicles are very popular in retirement communities.

High Speed Rail Electric

rail is an obvious choice for longer distance travel that can be much faster and more comfortable than automobiles or buses. Higher speed passenger rail has different performance and design requirements than freight rail making track sharing less than ideal. Grade separation is typically less expensive as grades of up to 6% can be used as opposed to 3% for freight trains and less vertical clearance is required from overpasses.

Long straight stretches are also needed for high-speed rail to hit maximum speed. Sophisticated automated signalling and control systems are used to prevent collisions on dedicated track reducing the need for heavy impact protection structures on the trains. This reduces operating and rolling stock costs while increasing maximum speeds.

Faster travel time reduces staff and rolling stock cost per trip and increases passenger revenue as people value reduced trip times. This improves the bottom line meaning lower or no operating subsidies are required.

Already, we are following behind even our immediate neighbours. Washington State has invested over $600 million in the Cascades Rail Corridor, mainly between Seattle and Portland due to indifference from the BC and Canadian Governments. Premier Reford of Alberta, is supporting high-speed rail between Calgary and Edmonton. The Washington Department of Transportation has lead the study and improvement of the Cascades Corridor.

BC Ferries
With BC Ferries experiencing financial challenges, now is the time to look at a complete rethink of its role in the transportation system. This could include transforming BC Ferries into an integrated transportation organization that is a marine transit system in addition to a marine highway system. The current mandate was reasonable back in the 1960’s but faced with the new realities going forward, this needs to be reconsidered.
Passenger-only ferries from terminals close to population centres and to current or planned rapid stations would be a much better option.It is estimated that BC Ferries accounts for 4% of the GHG emissions in BC.
The BC Ferries Act review does mention improved transit to terminals but did not evaluate options to do that nor evaluate options to better integrate transit at lower cost by more optimal terminal locations.In the Metro Vancouver, the terminals require the majority of the population to cross bridges and tunnels that do not have excess capacity and are congested during large portions of the day.

Connections to Naniamo, the second largest community on Vancouver and the communities between Naniamo and Victoria including Duncan, Ladysmith, Chamanis and Shanagan Lake are particularly inefficient. Naniamo is essentially due west of UBC and YVR but to access the ferries to it, travelers are required to go way north to Horseshoe Bay or way south to Tswassasen. A terminal near UBC or YVR like Bridgeport would be much more direct.The Island Corridor Review mentions ferry connections but did not evaluate options to improve those connections nor evaluate locations that might be optimal for ferry and rail connections.

Next Up
Hubs and corridors.

2 thoughts on “British Columbia Needs a Passenger Transportation Plan

  1. Pingback: The Massey Tunnel – Why BC Needs a Transportation Plan | Richard Campbell

  2. A fully integrated transportation planning approach for BC —- I couldn’t agree more!

    Regarding BC Ferries, I see the same conclusion on the horizon as with land transport: It’s far more affordable to move people instead of cars. A ferry that moves over 1,000 tonnes in vehicles along with the passengers costs orders of magnitude more per passenger kilometre than a passenger-only ferry. Yes, freight is important , but how much of that is there really on an average ferry that some refer to as a “floating traffic jam”? By moving the freight separately and by serving the passengers with highly-integrated transit connections on both sides of the Salish Sea, BC Ferries has less of a challenge in future because it could bank off traffic at today’s main terminals and concentrate its effort into building smaller and far more fuel efficient aluminum catamarans designed only for passengers that do not require the enormous scale of infrastructure that currently serve cars, trucks and buses.

    Passenger ferries built in BC should be the future, and a range of vessel sizes would serve the coast well, from 1,000+ passenger Vancouver-Nanaimo-Victoria-Seattle ferries to 400 person catamarans to the Sunshine Coast. I would argue that downtown-to-downtown (harbour) service should be a priority because of the presence of the respective CBDs and the concentration of transit service (e.g. Vancouver’s Waterfront Station which connects to the Lower Mainland at a single point).

    It’s time to shift paradigms.

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