‘TransLink 2017’ is a six-part Daily Hive end-of-year series on the state and future of Metro Vancouver’s public transit system, based on our recent extensive interview with TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond.
Part 1 discusses the feasibility of extending SkyTrain service during weekend nights.
Keeping SkyTrain infrastructure in a good condition to ensure service runs smoothly and safely is a priority for Kevin Desmond, the CEO of TransLink, and this is the public transit authority’s primary obstacle over recent public calls to deliver longer train service hours.
Earlier this month, TransLink announced that it will be initiating a formal study into what it would take to deliver extended hours during the busier weekend nights of Friday and Saturday. It is seeking advice from other systems around the world on how they managed to introduce late-night service, how extended service can be provided while retaining critical maintenance hours, and the potential financial costs of extended service.
Desmond told Daily Hive between 400 and 500 hours of maintenance are performed throughout the year during the extended maintenance period during both nights each week – in addition to the regular maintenance performed over the overnight periods all other nights.
He says running SkyTrain later at night on a model similar to the Copenhagen Metro – by running shuttle trains on a single track and allowing maintenance to be performed on the other track – still comes with its challenges.
“The same maintenance hours need to come from somewhere during the week,” he said. “You might be able to serve however many number of people from 1:30 to 3:30 am on weekends in downtown Vancouver, but you’re also inconveniencing people with less frequent and less reliable transit service by cutting back hours on other nights for maintenance.”
“If we figure out a way to make it work, we will put it on the table and express what the tradeoffs are.”
He maintains that 24/7 train service is an exception, not the rule, around the world – even if it is just on weekends.
And even those exceptions only cover a handful of the world’s busiest subway systems.
The London Underground only recently introduced 24/7 train service. But it did not happen overnight – it took Underground operators about five years to deliver the first 24/7 subway line.
New York City is perhaps best known for running its subway system around the clock, but that has contributed to the system’s growing state of dire disrepair.
Earlier in the year, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency for the subway system, and over the past month there were even suggestions from transit advocacy groups of abolishing the cherished 24/7 service to accelerate repairs. By shutting down the subway for four or five hours each night, extensive repairs could take 15 years. As currently planned, with the continuation of 24/7 service, the timeline stretches over 50 years.
“I grew up in New York when the subway was about to collapse,” said Desmond. “I cut my teeth in the public sector working alongside the New York City Department of Transportation and the whole conversation at the time was deferred maintenance. Well, we’re now coming off all the terrible lessons of deferred maintenance.”
“I’m big on preventing deferred maintenance, because of the fact that NYC fell back on that after a generation understood how to avoid it. In the near term you don’t understand the consequences, but over the long-term you now have a calamity. So we need to make sure we maintain SkyTrain in a state of repair.”
Desmond adds that he would like to have a conversation with a broader group of interested parties and stakeholders about what the transportation, human, and security needs are in downtown, especially a look at who would gain from extended service, how it could be financed operationally, and if there are other ways to transport – particularly taxis and ride hailing.
He also suggested specific organizations that benefit from later SkyTrain service could help cover the increased operating costs. For example, he says, Vancouver International Airport (YVR) is experiencing more overseas Asian flights when the Canada Line is not operational during the overnight hours, and there could be interest with providing the growing number of overnight passengers with train service into the city.
“They (YVR) have a commercial stake in this, so maybe we talk about figuring out different ways to share the burden. So I think that is a worthy conversation because at the end of the day, the public should help us how to manage those tradeoffs.”