Leadership absent in Bombardier streetcar storyline

Post by Daniel Fontaine in


streetcar heads home
A lack of creativity means Olympic streetcars are packed up and sent back to Europe

With over half a million riders in less than two months, Vancouver’s Olympic Line streetcars which ran between the Canada Line station and Granville Island were an overwhelming success. It didn’t take the public very long to fall in love with them, but thanks to a lack of creativity and the absence of political leadership, the City of Vancouver is putting them on a ship and sending them back to Europe.

During the last term of council the NPA majority voted to invest $8 million dollars to upgrade the tracks to help turn the streetcar into a reality. During the Games the people voted with their feet to say this was a great investment. So why is Mayor Robertson and his Vision crew throwing up their hands and saying there is nothing they can do to keep the line running beyond the Games?

It’s my understanding the City of Vancouver has yet to place a formal request to senior levels of government to keep the Olympic Line operating. That’s right, rather than actually request funding, Vision simply chose to put a motion before council asking that the feasibility of the line be studied – yet again. In politics they don’t call that leadership, it’s called followship.

If Robertson was really interested in keeping the Olympic Line open, why has he done virtually nothing since being elected in 2008 to save the line? He's had plenty of time to explore private sector partnerships to see if some new model could have put before Translink for consideration.

The NPA’s Suzanne Anton has been raising concerns about the Olympic Line shutting down for weeks. My colleague Mike Klassen also documented how the Mayor dropped the ball on this one, as did urbanist/Sun columnist Bob Ransford last weekend. In today’s Globe and Mail, reporter Ian Bailey also explores this topic and quotes the Mayor as saying:

I am open minded but we have to be pragmatic here and work with our transportation partners...It will take years to bring back.

It doesn’t take a lot of creativity to write up a Request For Proposal and post it on the City’s website. Perhaps the Mayor has simply been too busy hosting Olympic delegations to address these matters. That’s why we got our legal department on the 17th floor of CityCaucus Tower to write one up for him. Here's what they came up with:

Request for Proposal

Proponent: City of Vancouver

Project: Keep the Olympic Line operational and seek to expand it to Science World and eventually to Yaletown and Stanley Park.

Background: The neighbourhoods surrounding the Olympic Line are some of the densest in North America. It has been proven that transit operations can be extremely profitable in high density neighbourhoods.

One of the premiere developments in the area is the former Olympic Athlete’s Village on Vancouver’s waterfront. Based on population trends and ridership projections, it is expected the operator could expect to turn turn a profit from day one. An $8 million capital investment by the city has upgraded the existing track.

Scope: The City of Vancouver is seeking a private partner to develop a strategic plan to operate and maintain the Olympic Line. In partnership with the City, this P3 project would seek funding from senior levels of government to help expand the line beyond the current Canada Line terminus.

Timeline: Submit your proposals before the end of April 2010.

There you have it. If the Mayor and his crew want to keep the Olympic Line running, perhaps they'll take our draft RFP and post it on the City's website. It may not work, but it sounds a lot more promising than simply asking for another feasability study.

- post by Daniel


Do you seriously think that the Olympic line would be the slightest bit feasible economically once the olympics are over?

It has ONE lane of track, which means it can only carry one train at a time.

It does not go through a particularly busy or important part of town, and would effectively serve as a very expensive tourist trolly that was used by families on sunday.

Having good, efficient public transit means being smart and spending your money wisely. A rail line going down Broadway or 12th would have MUCH more traffic.

@Chris. Should I read from your comment that you don't even want to see if there is a private sector partner willing to try and run this? I've been told by city staff that ridership projections are very high for this line and it would break even. Are you privy to information that I'm not regarding ridership projections?

It certainly needs to be extended if it's going to be feasible. Also I would use the current police parking lot next to Olympic station as a park and ride for Granville Island, and limit cars at GI to essential only. This would make GI a nicer place to walk around and provide customers to a potential tram system.

So much for leadership on the environment. This will be a real lost opportunity. I bet it could fund itself once built with all the people that live around there - and will be moving to Athletes Village. There is probably a strong case to make with feds because Graville Island has most to gain out of this. Maybe city and Canada can get private partner to help fund and operate the line.

Rather than worrying about bees and gardens on the front lawn of city hall, why isn't the mayor focusing on a project that will actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions. If it's true, I'm aghast at the fact he hasn't asked the province or federal government to help fund this. Isn't that his job to advocate on behalf of the people of Vancouver and stop pimping himself for the evergreen line? Surely the feds/prov would see this as a great project with a legacy potential. He's got to get his priorities straight. A number of groups are popping up on facebook asking to keep this line open. Let's hope they're successful.

I would suggest that the writer of this article is looking at this line through rose colored glasses. Was the NPA's (of whom I am a supporter) decision to spend 8 million on a temporary rail line wise? I would suggest getting translink to provide 2 shuttle buses would be more cost effective.
As much as I think Gregor is on a different planet (pardon the pun) I don't think the city has any business continuing with this project without a massive amount of study and financial backing from other levels of government.

So agree with article!! It's an efficient way to get to Granville Island via Skytrain/transit. And I would really like to hear anything but platitudes from Mayor Gregor Robertson. It's getting ridiculous. Like how he justified the city spending over $300 000 on event tickets for staff (?!!???) -- to discuss business(...with foreign spectators? coaches?). Really, you're negotiating while watching a ski run. Clearly you're not doing much negotiating after either!

To her credit Ellen Woodsworth refused to accept the tickets for free. From the council meetings I've seen, she seems very ethical and dedicated. Thank god at least someone!

PS: you make a good point Chris H but that's assuming public transit would otherwise be smart and spend money wisely which I trust is not the case. The smartest, most cost efficient rail to the airport would have been to resuscitate existing train tracks through Kitsilano /Kerrisdale rather than create an underground system and yet the locals -- with considerable money (and councilors with homes there)-- balked and transit decided to spend much, much more on the existing system.

my point exactly. I think someone may be trying to fight and old political battle. I suspect the writer of this article underestimates the logic, intelligence , and common sense of the reader of this page.


Why would you want to keep those cars?
1. They're not suited for here -- Toronto just ordered a batch and each car is two feet wider because Canadian urban roads are wider than Brussels's.
2. They look nice, but moving is the game. The cars can go 80 kph. The track is rated for 60 kph, but Vancouver at first ran them at 40 "just to be safe". Then, two days before the Games began, the Public Safety Authority ordered the speed to be reduced to 25 kph, where it remained throughout the Games. It other words it was running at either 1/4 speed or half speed, depending on your point of view, "just to be safe." I wonder how many more people would have been carried if they were running at even the City's optimum speed setting?
3. They carried a lot of people, but only while the Olympics were on. Before the Olympics and between the Olympics and the Paralympics, they carried a relative handful, only approaching the concept of busy in the weekend between the Olympics and Paralympics. And, bear in mind, they were free the whole time. Also bear in mind the long line-ups that happened when the RAV line opened up last fall. You have to discount the curiosity factor in counting people who might actually use it.
4. They look nice, but I doubt if they'd stand up anywhere near as long as the utilitarian and outfitted-like-a-tank Skytrain set. We also liked that funky little Expo 86 monorail, which wouldn't have lasted a decade, either. This is the 2010 equivalent. The mayor, the premier and the prime minister are all just being polite not mentioning that out loud.
5. They're grade trains, which mean that every time they cross a road is a chance that somebody will run into them, or vice-versa. And every time they cross a road, cars --you know, those transit vehicles people like so much they pay a ton of money for them and put up with a ton of other municipally created road obstacles -- have to stop for them. Multiply five cars on each side of the tracks times as many road crossings as you want, times two minutes per driver times as often per day as you want the cars to cross, and after a while you're talking a real waste of time, not to mention idle exhaust or more reason for road rage.
6. Unlike the Skytrain concept, which is a glorified elevator, each Flexity train needs a driver (to avoid being hit at street crossings, or running over people, dogs, cats, raccoons, skunks, kids, other varmints, etc., etc, on the tracks). Skytrains may be expensive to build in capital cost that might be amortized over the city's usual five-year debentures, but a couple of drivers per train per day starts running into real operational payroll dough that never stops. And they want lunch breaks.

The little train was fun, like a Disney ride. Mickey, Minnie, let's move on. Literally.

Enough said, those cars are wonderful but they are leaving tomorrow Wed morning after 8am. If you want to wave goodbye to them, get down to 1st & Wylie.

I agree with those that stated that this is a lost opportunity. Rail such as this tends to attract more riders than shuttle buses. A quick search of the City's web page suggests that future extensions are already planned (http://vancouver.ca/engsvcs/transport/streetcar/index.htm)

I do hope that the Province and Feds can provide some support for this project in addition to future Skytrain extensions for Evergreen and the already very busy Broadway corridor to UBC.

Agreed, a complete lack of leadership. Such a shame, as there are many at the COV who certainly does not lack vision.

"Leadership"? but Gregor went to the Hollyhock Leadership school. Is that a clue to uncovering the truth behind Gregor.

The Lack of Vision Party needs an unshackled leader not a bought Man.

Gregor has one allegiance and its not for the well being of Vancouverites or Canadians.

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