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Dec 16,2008 Tri City News

Prof tallies ‘phenomenal’ costs of Broadway line

Every new student entering UBC — all 6,000 of them — could be given a brand new $25,000 Toyota Prius. And that could happen every year, forever.

That’s professor Patrick Condon’s calculation of what could be done instead of spending an estimated $2.8 billion building a new SkyTrain line to UBC.

“I don’t think people have any concept yet of how much money $2.8 billion to go 12 kilometres is,” said Condon, a senior researcher at UBC’s Design Centre for Sustainability.

Condon calculates $2.8 billion earning a 6% return would generate $168 million a year, more than enough to buy 6,000 Priuses.

He said his “ludicrous” example is intended to highlight the cost of what’s expected to be a deeply tunnelled SkyTrain line, the most expensive possible configuration.

“It’s a phenomenal amount of money,” he said. “It’s twice the cost of the Canada Line per kilometre and three to four times the cost of the Millennium Line.”

He’s an advocate of using much cheaper trams or light rail lines to make big transit investments go much farther.

Condon says SkyTrain “backbones” traversing the region — like the original Expo Line and the proposed Evergreen Line to Coquitlam — make sense.

“It loses logic when you start to extend the system out to UBC, which is at the very edge of the region,” he said.

“For the same kind of money as you’re contemplating expending to get out to Guildford [in Surrey], you could certainly cover Guildford, plus south Newton, the existing city hall area, Panorama Ridge and potentially beyond by connecting with the Interurban line to get you out to Cloverdale.”

Condon is the author of a new study that examines competing transportation options in terms of dollar cost, energy consumption and emissions. It concludes trams are the best investment based on reducing greenhouse gases and overall lifecycle costs, assuming most trips taken in the region are relatively short.

The case for SkyTrain is stronger if it’s assumed many people want to travel considerable distances, traversing the region each day.

SkyTrain does have the lowest operating costs of any option Condon surveyed but its high capital costs undo those gains.

So expensive is SkyTrain, he says, that the total cost per ride adds up to more than using a Ford Explorer SUV, while trams are the cheapest, just ahead of light rail.

Rail-based technologies will increasingly do better than buses or other vehicles as fuel costs rise in the future, the study projects.

The province last week announced studies to decide what technology should be used to build new rapid transit extensions in Surrey and the Broadway corridor in Vancouver.

Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon has said the choice for new lines also has to take into account how many people a system can move and how fast, adding new transit lines must be competitive with the option of taking a car.

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