(Black Press file photo)

UPDATE: Late-night transit pitched for Metro Vancouver, but SkyTrain not recommended

TransLink’s proposal was outlined in a report to Lower Mainland mayors on June 27

Metro Vancouver mayors are looking into increasing late-night transit across the region, but the plan won’t include SkyTrain.

In a year-long report given to Metro Vancouver mayors at TransLink headquarters on Thursday, TransLink suggested implementing an express version of a “NightBus” that shadows the current SkyTrain routes, similar to the bus hub being piloted from downtown Vancouver to Surrey, Coquitlam and cities within Greater Vancouver.

READ MORE: TransLink rolls out night bus ‘hub’ aimed at making Granville strip safer

But mayors representing cities outside of the already-existing routes, namely Port Coquitlam, Langley, White Rock, Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge, were able to convince fellow mayors to instead agree on exploring how NightBuses could be expanded into the outlying cities, as well.

Looking into late-night service started late last spring, and included forming a steering committee with business associations, law enforcement and other groups.

Thursday’s proposal stems from a technical study that looks at how other major cities across the world handle late-night services, such as London and New York, as well as what a 24-hour service during seven and two days a week would look like. The total cost for the study was $500,000.

Funding for any form of late-night services has not been approved by the council, and would be part of Phase 3 in the 10-Year Investment Plan into 2020, or involve scrapping another project instead. The anticipated cost would be roughly $4 million if routes were to only shadow the Expo Line and Millenium Line.

In the meantime, TransLink has worked to address the need for late-night services by rolling out 10 bus routes that start in Vancouver and connect to Coquitlam, Surrey and the Greater Vancouver region including to UBC.

In 2018, these 10 routes saw a total ridership of 820,000, up from 693,000 in 2017. TransLink pointed to marketing campaigns as the reason for the increase in popularity.

Several of the routes will see a boost in the number of buses starting in September, TransLink announced – a welcome announcement to the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association.

“After seeing the success that came from the launch of TransLink’s NightBus District last year, we’re hopeful that a NightBus express service would strengthen downtown Vancouver’s nighttime economy and help even more people return home safely from the downtown core”said association president Charles Gauthier.

Late-night service, or 24-hour service on SkyTrain faces numerous barriers

The key issue with SkyTrain being the mode of transportation to offer late-night transit is that SkyTrain wasn’t designed for 24-7 service, TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond told the group of mayors, whereas buses could streamline routes in order to be as quick as possible by limiting the number of spots to centralized stops.

Bus drivers also wouldn’t be dealing with the typical daily traffic.

“I believe this option will make a difference,” Desmond said. “We can roll out relatively quickly and easily once funding is secured whereas running SkyTrain all night on weekends would negatively affect more customers than it helps due to the significant scheduling and cost trade-offs required.”

The report looked at the possibility of SkyTrain operating on a 24-2 service, meaning that it would run 24 hours for two days a week, most likely Friday and Saturday. But the report still found that there wouldn’t be enough time left through the rest of the week for the needed maintenance.

READ MORE: Proposed TransLink changes could bring double-decker buses to South Surrey

In order to operate the trains continuously through the weekend, one hour of service would have to be removed each day on Sunday to Thursday. If that hour of service happened during the final hour of weekday service, at roughly midnight, one million people annually would lose access to the transit system, according to ridership data.

That’s compared to an estimated 525,000 to 700,000 people who would benefit from all-night train services.

Core constraints for TransLink also include the extra funds it would cost to run for more hours through the week, the report reads, which could impact other projects in the near future, as well as non-priority upgrades to the existing transit system.

While the NightBus could cost as low as $4 million, 24-hour SkyTrain service would cost $20 million in initial upgrades along routes and then $10 million in yearly operating costs.

Extra funds would be needed to potentially build a new worksite in downtown Vancouver to expedite the necessary train maintenance, the report reads.

Why not just extend Friday and Saturday services by one hour?

As it stands, the final train of the Expo Line leaves Waterfront Station at 1:16 a.m. Monday through Saturday and 12:15 a.m. on Sunday and holidays. TransLink found that adding an hour on Friday and Saturday would decrease the maintenance window from two hours to one hour and 45 minutes, which wouldn’t allow enough time to meet proper safety standards.

READ MORE: TransLink reveals new plans for proposed Surrey-Langley SkyTrain

The future of ride hailing a piece to the puzzle in future late-night services

The province’s promise to deliver on ride hailing played a big role in the Thursday’s debate among mayors.

While ride sharing was a noted threat that could cause potential loss of ridership along 24-hour SkyTrain services once implemented, the same could be true for the NightBus expanding to regions beyond those that touch the current train lines.

A number of Greater Vancouver mayors suggested that people can take taxis from final SkyTrain stops late at night, but Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West argued that the present-day taxi-only option is still costly, and wait times can be as long as two hours on some nights causing safety concerns.

“In the next 20 years, our area, which is Ridge Meadows, will represent about 100,000 to 120,000 people,” said Mayor Bill Dingwall. “This sort of regional system has to encompass the greater region… we have people who work in Vancouver that need to get home at nighttime.”

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum disagreed, saying that NightBuses shadowing pre-existing train routes could be implemented quicker and address safety concerns that still exist for regions touched by SkyTrain.

As the motion to look further into expanding NightBuses was passed, TransLink staff will study the costs and potential ridership along various routes and report back to the mayors at a later date.


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