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Old Posted Apr 17, 2017, 7:11 PM
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SFUVancouver SFUVancouver is offline
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Join Date: Dec 2006
Location: Kamloops
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Originally Posted by cornholio View Post
Full disclosure. I am positive SFUVancouver did a study on the feasiblity of this project, in which case he has a justified personal motivation to push this project forward.
You are correct. I did a study for SFU Community Trust as an undergraduate prior to graduate school. The passenger throughput of Gondola Rapid Transit ("GRT"; a term I believe I coined) was incredible and achievable. Over a 30 year time horizon, Translink would save a considerable amount of money (my recollection was $47M) utilizing GRT versus operating buses, based on a series of assumptions, all while eliminating weather interruptions to service, lowering GHGs, and providing a vastly improved level of service for students and residents.

Following my study, PE Bryce Tupper was hired by SFU Community Trust to independently verify my work, because I was obviously a student and not a licensed engineer, and generally further the case for a Translink study. I was gratified that his work confirmed mine and that our numbers were within about 5-10% with respect to capital cost estimate of the GRT, net present value of the two modes (GRT & bus), and level of service numbers.

It's unfortunate that the Translink CH2MHill study found significantly higher capital costs that shifted the NPV of the GRT, but I defer to their expertise in such cost estimation. Even so, I believe that it was still a net positive in favour of GRT vs buses, but the capital costs (again, my recollection's a bit fuzzy the better part of a decade later) came in around $110M (vs my estimate of $75M) and that pushed the project from a "seriously consider" to a "nice to have one day".

The thing that makes me crazy about the concept being shelved is that I don't think that Translink needs to spend a dime. This project should have been approached by Translink from day one as a P3, with the tender document calling for a design-finance-build-operate-maintain concessionaire agreement. Translink is already going to be paying to operate the 145 indefinitely. Instead of directly paying to run buses with the unknown variables of fuel prices, labour costs, maintenance, and required level of service, it could instead pay a single, predictable, contractually secured monthly fee to the concessionaire to operate the GRT service, pay off its construction, fund its maintenance, and have that all cost less than the buses while delivering a far better and more reliable level of service to passengers.

It is a simple point-to-point service connecting the summit terminus station at the upper bus loop to Production Way-University lower terminus. It connects to the Translink bus and SkyTrain network but is a discrete separate mode, and short of including fare gates and ticket vending machines to process payment and coordinating hours of operation with SkyTrain service, it would not require any interconnection to the various Translink operations. This is tailor made for a P3 and could follow very closely the model of the Canada Line where Translink contracts with the concessionaire for a certain number of hours of service a day with minimum levels of service and a whole host of requirements for safety and customer service. But because the capital cost is so much lower, I don't think that there would even need to be any public funding. It could be 100% private capital.

Incidentally, it still bugs me that the Production Way-University SkyTrain station isn't called "Production Way-SFU". To which other university could the station name be referring? Why is it a generic "University" for SFU when we name UBC-terminus bus routes "UBC" and VCC-Clark station isn't "Community College-Clark"? But I digress.

Transit demand will continue to grow for the 145 as SFU grows and Univercity builds out, plus as the SkyTrain network expands the utility of transit grows and proportionately more trip demand will be created, independent of total number of trips, as transit mode-share among SFU-bound people increases. The capacity of the GRT system could be scaled up over time by adding more cabins, or it could simply be built to deliver its full design capacity from day one and delivery a huge jump in capacity and level of service from the first day of operation.

Bottom line, I'm still pretty confident that the project will one day coming to fruition. It makes too much financial and level of service sense for it to not keep getting reviewed and reconsidered over time. The sooner its built, the better for Translink, students, recreational users of Burnaby Mountain, and the residents of SFU student housing and Univercity.
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Last edited by SFUVancouver; Apr 17, 2017 at 7:25 PM.
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