19 January 2009 05:24
Last week, the first of 48 new light metro cars arrived at SkyTrain’s headquarters in Burnaby. Sporting a refreshing blue-and-grey design, the SkyTrain vehicles are visually impressive.
More importantly, they have increased passenger capacity. So, their addition should be a big plus for commuters, who have made SkyTrain a popular — and at times strained — transit system.
But even as Metro Vancouver’s transit authority un-shrinkwraps and test-drives the sleek cars, a vocal chorus of SkyTrain boobirds are quick to trash this region’s choice of rapid rail.
These naysayers argue that — due to its cost and form — the region should forego SkyTrain in the future, in favour of less-intrusive light rail transit, or even more buses.
You can bet these carpers will be at the Vancouver Public Library this Wednesday evening for a Langara College-organized public debate pitting SkyTrain bashers against boosters.
But here’s why SkyTrain should be embraced as the system of choice for rapid transit expansion in Metro Vancouver.
When it comes to public transport, people vote with their feet. Higher costs notwithstanding, transit users appreciate SkyTrain’s speed, durability and separation from traffic.
Judging by the standing-room-only crowds during rush hour, the system is a winner — whether the critics will admit to it or not.
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Union leader Jim Houlahan, who represents bus drivers with Coast Mountain Bus Company, has made noise recently about the jump in TransLink’s annual operating budget — from roughly $800 million in 2007 to the current $1.3 billion.
He points out — quite fairly, in my opinion — improvements in transit service hardly match the dramatic spike in spending.
And commuters are still dealing with a region-wide bus crunch.
Case in point: For two consecutive days last week, I was unable to board the No. 44 bus, which travels between UBC and downtown Vancouver, because of overcrowding.
Oddly, a tattered sign posted at a popular boarding location prods riders to consider taking some alternative — and yes, slower — routes.
I don’t doubt that TransLink means well by posting such information. But it’s also an admission that there’s a capacity problem on the route — one it’s so far unwilling to address.
The same story plays out on other bus routes in the region.
In the case of the No. 44, it’s a shame one of Vancouver’s most important transit routes is also one of its most woefully under-served.