Comparing the efficiency of TransLink to its peers

Because you want facts, not campaign slogans

The Referendum

Metro Vancouver residents are now voting for whether to significantly expand their over-used transit network. As trains become increasingly overcrowded, many bus lines fill up so much on the first stop that they pass up people on the following and congestion continues to increase, this is an important step in the history of the city.

A couple months ago Jordan Bateman of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation launched a campaign on TransLink's operational and administrative inefficiencies and urged people to vote no. Little perspective was provided, so this site aims to zoom out and provide a basis for comparison.

The 0.5% more sales tax up for vote delivers:
  • Broadway subway Millenium Line extension from VCC Clark to Arbutus
  • 2 light rail lines - from Surrey Center to Guildford and to Langley
  • 11 new rapid bus B-Lines
  • 400 new buses & 25% more service
  • 220 new trains for higher capacity on all SkyTrain lines
  • 50% more SeaBus service
  • 27% more West Coast Express service
  • 30% more HandyDART service
  • 2700 km of new bikeways
  • A new Pattulo Bridge

The competition

Transit agencies of comparable size

City Agency Daily Ridership
Vancouver TransLink 1.13 million
Toronto TTC 2.65 million
Seattle King County Metro & Sound Transit 0.5 million
San Francisco MUNI & BART 1.1 million

#1: Administrative over Operating Cost

The lower the proportion of administrative expenses as part of total operating expenses, the better, as more money goes towards transportation services as opposed to overhead.

TransLink is #2 and well in the range of other large transit agencies. Seattle is ahead but with half the ridership of Vancouver.

City Agency Admin / operating cost Rank
Vancouver TransLink 13.9% [source] 2
Toronto TTC 16.2% [source] 4
Seattle KCM & ST 8.5 % [source 1 & source 2] 1
San Francisco MUNI & BART 14% [source 1 & source 2] 3

#2: Fare evasion rate

A 2008 PriceWaterhouseCoopers audit of TransLink showed that periodical mass media articles have lead to the perceived rate of fare evasion being much higher than the actual one.

The decision to install fare-gates was forced onto TransLink by the BC government. A 2010 survey of 33 transit agencies found 30 of them are using the honor system of proof of payment + fare inspections.

City Agency Fare evasion rate Rank
Vancouver TransLink 2.5% [source] 2
Toronto TTC 1.6% [source] 1
Seattle KCM 4.3% [source] 3
San Francisco MUNI 7.9% [source] 4

#3: Farebox recovery

Do fares cover the cost of the provided service? While Toronto comes out ahead with excellent farebox recovery ratio, Vancouver is just behind it at #2 and is above the 52% avarage of 85 medium-to-large agencies worldwide.

City Agency Farebox recovery rate Rank
Vancouver TransLink 53% [source] 2
Toronto TTC 76% [source] 1
Seattle KCM & ST 20% [source 1 & source 2] 4
San Francisco MUNI & BART 48% [source 1 & source 2] 3

#4: On time reliability

With the two "meltdowns" last year the perception of SkyTrain as "outdated" and "unreliable" came into public focus.

But as anyone who has traveled the great subway systems of the megacities of the world will know, delays and breakdowns are far not a unique attraction of Vancouver.

City System Trains on time Rank
Vancouver SkyTrain 94.7% [source] 2
Toronto TTC Subway 96.6% [source] 1
Seattle ST Link 93.6% [source] 3
San Francisco BART 91% [source] 4

#5: Build-out costs

Can we trust TransLink to deliver new infrastructure without wasting money? In comparison to its peer agencies it actually has the lowest cost per km. That's in part because only half of the mentioned line is underground and half is elevated, but the breakdown of the new lines in the referrendum is similar too.

City Project (Agency) Length & profile Cost
Vancouver Canada Line (TransLink) 19.2 km, 16 stations,
47% underground
$109m / km
$2.1b total [source]
Toronto Toronto-York Spadina (TTC) 8.6 km, 6 stations,
100% underground
$302m / km
$2.6b total [source]
Seattle University Link (ST) 5.07 km, 2 stations,
100% underground
$375m / km
$1.9b total [source]
San Francisco Central Subway (MUNI) 2.74 km, 4 stations,
92% underground
$584m / km
$1.6b total [source]


TransLink fares pretty well in cost effectiveness when compared to agencies in cities with similar density patterns and geography. Toronto comes out ahead, but it's a much denser city and does not have as much geography "in the way" as Vancouver does. Can TransLink become better? Yes. But it's important to look at things in perspective and prioritize effort where it is needed most.

Right now, due to high ridership (which is good problem to have), priority #1 is expanding the transit network. Improving operational efficiency is a valid issue, but it is not the #1 problem we face today.

Voting no on the transit referendum is not a vote to focus on operational efficiency rather than capacity expansion. In fact, handling the continually increasing demand with the same amount of funding will become an even bigger problem and overwhelm staff. To think that somehow one can "punish" TransLink is no different than hitting your computer when your browser crashes - it wouldn't help a bit.

So, for the best of your own interests, whether you take transit or drive, vote yes.

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Created by an expat UBC grad who cares deeply about Vancouver and wants facts, not falsehoods, to decide its fate.
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