By Jeff Lee, Vancouver Sun
SURREY — TransLink is backing off plans to reduce service along its crowded Expo Line to Surrey as part of a realignment of SkyTrain schedules starting Oct. 22.
Changes have been in the works for the entire SkyTrain schedule as the system prepares for the introduction of the Evergreen Line to the Tri-Cities before Christmas. TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond told media last week the changes would result in an “imperceptible” decrease in service on some routes as TransLink tries to reposition trains along the entire system for more efficiency.
But on Friday the transportation authority said it had validated complaints by some, including a Surrey transit blogger, who found schedules that showed there would actually be a cut to service on the Expo line from Waterfront to King George in Surrey. Those changes would have resulted in as much as a 20 per cent decline in service, according to transportation blogger Daryl Dela Cruz.
Another transit critic, Nathan Davidowicz, said TransLink’s plan to increase waiting times for Surrey trains by as much as a minute during peak hours and two minutes in off-peak times would result in significant overcrowding, even though TransLink plans to offset the times with longer trains.
Geoff Cross, the acting vice-president of transportation planning and policy, said TransLink re-examined the schedule in light of Dela Cruz’s observations and agreed there was a problem.
“We have made adjustments since this news came out and we started looking at it,” he said. “We looked at the service patterns and we made some slight adjustments to the peak and we also changed the off-peak. We said that is not the objective we want to achieve.”
Cross said that as a result riders shouldn’t notice any significant change. Some may have to wait up to 15 or 20 seconds longer, but longer trains will be used to increase capacity.
TransLink began advertising this week that system changes will begin on Oct. 22, including stopping the circle route on the Millennium Line and converting to more frequent service using shorter trains between VCC-Clark and Production Way-University. It is part of a plan to try to entice commuters to begin using the Evergreen Line between Port Moody and the Millennium-shared Lougheed Station when Evergreen opens before Christmas. Cross said capacity will actually increase by about six per cent along the new shortened Millennium route.
But in order to do that TransLink will reposition cars and use two train routes on the Expo line, one that goes between Waterfront to King George, and the other between Waterfront and Production Way-University, on the Millennium line.
TransLink plans to convert its oldest Mark 1 four-car trains to six-car trains along Expo. Doing so will bump up average train capacity along the line to 500 passengers from 425 now, according to Cross.
Davidowicz, a longtime transit critic, said the changes would have been hardest on those going to and from Surrey.
“Surrey is growing at a much faster rate than many other municipalities, between 1,000-1,500 people extra every month,” he said. “People are going to wait longer, and some trains may be full so they will have to wait for the next one.”
Emails to Dela Cruz asking for comment were not returned.
But for all the changes being made, there will still be no overall improvement in SkyTrain service for at least two years.
With the main Expo Line between downtown Vancouver and Surrey already facing near-capacity loads during peak hours, with more development being planned around stations on all routes, and with TransLink largely stalled in its funding efforts, commuters will be challenged to find timely space on trains until at least 2018 or 2019.
That is when TransLink hopes to take delivery of 28 SkyTrain and 22 Canada Line cars it wants to order this fall as part of the 10-year capital plan. But that order is dependent on regional mayors approving the expenditures following pubic consultation next month.
TransLink already faces a capacity problem over much of its system. In early September, Desmond acknowledged the cash-strapped transportation authority witnessed record ridership in 2015 with 364 million boardings — up 2.2 per cent since 2011 — but has not been able to provide enough services to accommodate the region’s rapidly growing population.
TransLink’s most recent performance review showed service has dropped from 2.71 service hours per capita to just over 2.4 hours across the the entire bus, Seabus and SkyTrain system.
It took delivery earlier this summer of some of the 28 new Mark III cars ordered for the Evergreen line at a cost of $90.7 million, or $3.2 million each. It immediately pressed eight of them into service on the Expo line. It is supposed to put the rest of them into service in time for the Evergreen opening.
But on Sept. 21 TransLink pulled the two new four-car trains out of service after one lost propulsion and stalled on the SkyTrain bridge between New Westminster and Surrey. Engineers are still doing evaluations of the failure and the trains have not been returned to service.