Will street cars become commonplace again on Vancouver streets like they are in Toronto?
On January 21st, Vancouver is about to experience the new Bombardier Fixity street cars in all their glory. My colleague Mike Klassen just happened to be driving beside the tracks yesterday when one of them whizzed by him with three City employees aboard. Before long, these sleek and modern European-styled street cars will be heading back and forth between the Olympic Village Canada Line station and Granville Island. It's not hard to predict these trains will become very popular...very fast. Bombardier is counting on it, if it ever wants to make money off the investment they made in bringing the trains here in the first place.
Therein lies the political problem for Mayor Robertson and his council colleagues. After the trains go into service and become wildly popular, will the public simply demand they stay put? If they do, what then?
The portion of the track the demonstration street car will run on during the Olympics is only a small section of what is hoped to be a much longer line which will shuttle tourists and residents between downtown and Granville Island. As Bob Ransford from the Vancouver Sun wrote last week, this street car line also has the potential of one day connecting passengers from the Millennium Line station at Vancouver Community College to Arbutus Street. From there, UBC bound passengers would be expected to catch the B-Line bus to their final destination. Clearly there are many options open to City engineers, if only they could find the money to help pay for it all.
While there aren't many things that Vision Councillor Geoff Meggs and I agree upon, this issue might be one of them. He recently blogged that we should perhaps give some serious consideration to keeping the street car alive after the Games have come and gone. I couldn't agree more, but it will take a bit of old-fashioned ingenuity and creative thinking to take the plans off the drawing board and turn them into reality. There are some folks asking whether a possible P3 model might be the answer to our problem.
Unlike the Evergreen line in the Tri-Cities which will lose money, the potential for financial success of a new streetcar line connecting Granville Island, Science World, Chinatown and the Vancouver Convention Centre is immense. Transportation planners argue that with all the density around the line, it would more than break even from day one. If so, why has TransLink been so hesitant to partner with the City of Vancouver on this project? And is that resistance softening a bit?
Both Meggs and my sources are confirming that TransLink is now seriously considering how it might look at keeping the line open past the Games. This is good news. Whereas a few years ago they saw the street car as a fanciful project being pushed by exuberant engineers who liked their toy trains, today they're taking a more serious look. Could cash-strapped TransLink simply be looking at this line as a way of pulling in desperately needed new revenue? Perhaps. Or, they may also know what's coming by way of public opinion if they try to shut down the line after the Olympics and Paralympics have come and gone.
According to information we've obtained from Bombardier, over half a million people will ride the street car over the course of about two months. Even if you remove all the extra Olympic passengers, this is a phenomenal number of people using this mode of transportation. It's hard to believe that on March 21st the last train is scheduled to pull out of the station for the last time. Let's hope that civic leaders like Geoff Meggs can put their considerable political clout behind this project and make it a reality, once and for all.