BC Transit Vancouver operating statistics

The following figures are for the 1994/95 fiscal year.

Mode Service hours Distance travelled Resource consumed Energy used Energy efficiency Average speed including layovers
SkyTrain 554 288 22 338 000 km 53 920 000 kWh
194 112 GJ 8.69 MJ/km 40.3 km/h
Trolley bus 852 557 12 966 285 km 35 454 170 kWh
127 635 GJ 9.84 MJ/km 15.2 km/h
Diesel bus 2 105 740 45 582 954 km 29 161 885 L
diesel fuel
1 099 694 GJ 24.1 MJ/km 21.6 km/h
SeaBus 10 437 140 948 km 1 118 718 L
diesel fuel
42 187 GJ 299 MJ/km 13.5 km/h

Note that the energy efficiency figures can only be compared between modes after considering the size of the vehicle and the type of service it performs.

Aside from 21 articulated buses (3% of the fleet), all buses are standard length. A SkyTrain car is also the same length as a bus, making direct comparisons between these three modes relatively easy. The SeaBus can seat 400 people, which is approximately 10 to 11 times more than a bus or SkyTrain car.

Thus, only considering size (or, in other words, passenger carrying capacity), SkyTrain is most efficient, trolleybuses are almost as efficient, and diesel buses and SeaBus are 2.5 times less efficient, with SeaBus being slightly less efficient than diesel buses.

However, SkyTrain and SeaBus have a large average distance between stops. Some diesel bus routes are express routes which have an extremely long distance without stops, but frequent stops at each end. All trolley bus routes (except the #10 Hastings Express), however, operate on inner city routes with frequent stops. Thus, to be fair, trolleybuses should be rated as being better than they appear in the above chart.

Thus, the overall "fuzzy" judgement is that SkyTrain and trolleybuses are in the same "ballpark" in terms of efficiency, but they are more than twice as efficient as the diesel powered buses and SeaBus.

Note: other systems, e.g. Edmonton, report a much larger difference in energy efficiency between rail and rubber. The "U2" light rail vehicle in use in Edmonton is 24.28m long (versus a SkyTrain car's 12.7m), yet energy consumption of a U2 is 10.0 MJ/km, only 15% more than a SkyTrain car, or about the same as a trolleybus, despite being 90% longer. SkyTrain's relative inefficiency is likely due to its use of linear induction motors.

Other notes:

  1. The assumed energy density of diesel fuel is 37.71 MJ/L.
  2. The distance figure for diesel buses includes service provided by compressed natural gas (CNG) buses but does not include the energy cost of those buses. The CNG buses used 59 990 cubic metres of natural gas, or 2234 GJ (at 37.24 MJ per cubic metre) - only 0.2% of the diesel figure. This difference is negligible.
  3. Expressed in a more traditional form, the diesel bus fuel efficiency is 64 L/100 km, or approximately 3.7 mpg. The SeaBus fuel efficiency is 794 L/100 km, or approximately 0.30 mpg.
  4. The average speed of vehicles in service is a more useful measure than the average speed computed above by dividing distance travelled by service hours. The average speed in service is not available, but it can be assumed that it is greater than but close to the average speed shown in the table. For example, SkyTrain average speed in service is approximately 45 km/h; each train usually spends a minimum of two minutes waiting at each end of its 38 minute trip.
  5. There are, of course, a lot more significant digits shown than are realistic!
James Strickland
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