Ridership on Metro Vancouver’s public transit system is on track to reach record levels this year, according to TransLink in its latest performance update.
The public transit authority says ridership on its services grew by 5.7% during the first six months of 2017, totalling 200 million boardings, compared to the same period last year.
If the same rate of growth continues, TransLink could see over 400 million boardings by the end of the year. In contrast, there were 363 million boardings in 2015 and 385 million boardings in 2016, which was a record-breaking year with 4.5% growth.
The service that experienced the highest rate of growth was SkyTrain, with an 11.9% growth over the first half of the year compared to the previous year.
Bus ridership grew by 2.5% after 89,000 bus service hours were added while SeaBus boardings rose by 5.7% following the frequency increase to every 15 minutes.
The only service that saw a drop in ridership during this period was the West Coast Express, which saw a 6.1% decline likely because of the opening of SkyTrain’s Evergreen extension. Some passengers that previously used the commuter rail service in the Tri-Cities area likely shifted to SkyTrain.
Of course, all of this growth follows the rollout of Phase One transit improvements earlier this year of new and more frequent services, especially on all three SkyTrain lines and the opening of the Evergreen extension in December 2016. Approximately 30,000 people board the Evergreen extension daily, including about 5,000 new transit riders.
“So far, it shows us that the Phase One investment plan and even before that, all the network changes that we made in 2016, were well thought out and they were using the data that we’ve seen before to match where demand is,” Geoff Cross, the Vice-President of Planning and Policy at TransLink, told Daily Hive.
Other factors that affect ridership numbers include strong economic growth, record tourism, and major residential and employment redevelopments around stations.
“It shows there is strong demand in the region and when we put out quality service, people will use it. In fact, they use it more than we thought we would,” said Cross.
Additionally, the full implementation of the Compass Card has proven to be a success, with riders attracted by its convenience and the discounts it provides compared to cash fares. More importantly for service planning purposes, the data collected from the Compass card readers and fare gates provides TransLink with a better idea of how passengers use the transit system.
“It makes it easier to do our service plans,” he continued. “It also focuses and shines a big light on where the most crowded routes are, where issues around reliability are that would otherwise require a lot of intervention, and we might not get that in real time.”
But record growth is also correlated with a rise in overcrowding, especially on SkyTrain where there is not much more TransLink can do until new additional trains arrive.
“On the Expo and Millennium lines, we are using every single SkyTrain car that we have,” added Cross. “I think there are constantly two being in regular maintenance, but just about everything else is rolling out… So that is why it is essential we get more peak and fleet out there.”
TransLink’s additional order of seven fully-articulated, four-car Mark III trains for the Expo and Millennium lines is not expected to arrive until the end of 2018.
As for the Canada Line, Cross says staff are currently engaged in the process to acquire 11 two-car trains, and at this point this additional fleet could arrive in 2019 or 2020. Train frequencies on the Canada Line were increased in January to the extent that 18 of the 20 trains are used during peak periods.
There are also plans to launch four more B-Line bus routes before the end of the decade, with routes running on the North Shore from West Vancouver to Lower Lynn, 41st Avenue from UBC to Joyce-Collingwood Station, Fraser Highway from Surrey City Centre to Langley, and Lougheed Highway from Coquitlam Central Station to Maple Ridge.
A new third SeaBus vessel, replacing a 1970s-era vessel, arriving by 2019 will further increase ferry frequencies to every 10 minutes during peak hours.