Olympic transportation survival guide: what you need to know

SkyTrain will be heavily used by people going to Olympic events and celebration sites.

Games gridlock is the big fear for many locals as the 2010 Olympics loom.

You don’t need to flee the city or spend two weeks hiding at home.

But getting around during the Olympics is best done with planning, thought and plenty of patience.

So herewith is our guide to getting around to help you enjoy the Games instead of spending too much of it stuck in traffic.

First, the good news.

If you live in one of Metro Vancouver’s suburbs and don’t have to commute into Vancouver for work, traffic won’t be too bad.

Motorists should be able to drive within their own communities to work, shopping and other everyday trips without hitting much more than normal congestion.

There won’t be any of the road and bridge closures, Olympic-only lanes or parking restrictions that will constrict traffic in Vancouver.

If you’re a regular transit user, expect buses to be busier than normal as Games-goers ride to local live sites or to SkyTrain to avoid driving downtown.

If the system is overwhelmed, you may see your already-full bus roll by without stopping.

TransLink aims to ensure those pass-ups don’t happen.

An extra 160 roving buses are at the ready to roll into action wherever they’re needed most.

At least 10 are in Surrey, with another six to 10 in the Tri-Cities area, along with more in Richmond, South Delta and West Vancouver.

“If we see that a certain route is becoming busy we can dispatch that bus and add capacity to that route,” said Matt Craig, TransLink’s senior transportation planner.

TransLink expects transit use will jump 33 per cent during the Olympics to a million trips a day, as visitors and locals alike heed the advice to ride instead of drive.

One factor that may help ease demand is that many universities and other schools will be on breaks.

Buses should run at least every 15 minutes on frequent transit corridors such as the Fraser Highway out to Langley, Highway 99 or King George Highway to South Surrey and Lougheed Highway to Coquitlam and Maple Ridge.

Demand on those routes that connect to SkyTrain will be closely monitored and ramped up as needed.

You can pre-plan your route by entering dates and times of travel on the trip planner at www.travelsmart2010.ca.

Getting to live sites

If you’re trying to get to your local live site, don’t expect to park nearby.

Everyone else will have the same idea.

Nor can you count on not being ticketed if you use a mall parking lot that hasn’t been cleared for use by TransLink.

Instead, scout further afield for a place to park and ride a bus on a frequent transit corridor.

Some shuttle services will be on offer – you can park at Fraser Downs Racetrack and Casino, for example, and catch a bus to Surrey’s Celebration Site at Holland Park.

It may also be possible to park somewhere such as the Scott Road station and ride SkyTrain east to King George Station, across from the Holland Park celebration zone.

Blame the flame

Like moths to a flame, the Olympic torch will be a magnet for sightseers as it crisscrosses the Lower Mainland Feb. 7-11.

That means temporary road closures wherever it goes.

Expect rolling 20-minute delays if the flame is where you’re trying to go.

Downtown train

Simply put, if you go downtown to soak up the Olympic atmosphere, live sites and free concerts – and many people will at some point during the Games – don’t try to drive all the way unless you want a gold medal in frustration.

Congestion will be bad downtown but may not be much worse than normal in most Metro suburbs.

Rush-hour conditions are expected to prevail downtown almost 24 hours a day.

The best way to get there will be by SkyTrain or West Coast Express on the north side of the Fraser River from areas like the Tri-Cities, Maple Ridge and Mission.

West Coast Express will run at least three extra trains a day and it will also be a potential option for those from Abbotsford and northern Langley via the Mission or Golden Ears bridges.

SeaBuses will also run every 10 minutes from North Vancouver’s Lonsdale Quay, thanks to a newly launched third vessel.

The Canada Line will be a good option for Richmond, South Delta and potentially South Surrey/White Rock residents via express bus that connects at Bridgeport Station.

Where to park

The main trick will be getting to a rapid transit station.

Existing park and rides with 7,200 stalls will be open (see http://www.translink.ca/en/Driving/Park-and-Ride.aspx) and several more temporary lots at closed colleges and businesses will open up for the Games.

Buses may be considerably busier than usual.

The vast City of New Westminster waterfront parkade has been cleared for use as a park-and-ride during the Olympics, offering 500 stalls.

Another 400 to 650 will also be available up the hill at Douglas College, which will be on break.

It may make more sense for some Surrey and south of Fraser passengers to park at one of those New Westminster lots and board SkyTrain there, rather than the Surrey park-and-rides at Scott Road and King George stations that could fill up fast.

For Canada Line users, there’s a big existing park-and-ride at the River Rock Casino Resort that connects to Bridgeport Station, but temporary lots are available near Landsdowne Station at the Kwantlen Polytechnic University Richmond campus and a much pricier lot at Sheraton Vancouver Airport Hotel.

The parking will be free at Langley’s Cascades Casino (buses go up Fraser Highway to SkyTrain) and at extra lots at the Port Moody and Maple Meadows and Mission West Coast Express stations.

The full list of temporary lots with prices is at: http://www.translink.ca/en/Driving/Park-and-Ride/2010-Park-and-Ride.aspx.

Even with almost 3,200 extra parking stalls that will push the region’s total to more than 10,000, it may be hard to find a spot.

If you can walk from home to a bus route and catch a ride from there, says TransLink’s Ken Hardie, so much the better.

Once aboard SkyTrain, you’ll be downtown in 30 to 40 minutes from Surrey, around 20 minutes from Richmond and less than 30 minutes from New Westminster.

Save time and prepay

Another tip: Buy prepaid tickets in advance, available at many convenience stores, pharmacies and supermarkets.

Buy prepaid tickets or passes ahead of time to avoid ticket vending machine lineups and save money.

All photos Evan Seal / Surrey Leader

You’ll save money and scoot past the line-ups at SkyTrain ticket vending machines. They’ll also save you fumbling for correct change if you take a bus.

A book of 10 three-zone FareSaver tickets – needed for travel from south of the Fraser, the Tri-Cities or Maple Ridge – will cost $38. Ten two-zone tickets good for travel from the North Shore, Burnaby, New Westminster or Richmond cost $28.50.

Want to just go once? A $9 day pass ($7 for seniors and students) may be the most flexible option, giving unlimited all-day travel with no worries about ticket expiry times.

Note: Trips after 6:30 p.m. or on weekends cost only one zone no matter how far you go. Ten one-zone tickets are $19.

TransLink also sells a six-week commemorative Olympic pass good from Feb. 12 to March 21 that goes for $149 (two zones), $204 (three zones) or $64 (concession).

Special fares apply for West Coast Express, but prepaid tickets can be applied against those rates.

Hour-plus waits possible

SkyTrain has 48 more cars, offering 30 per cent more service than last year.

There will be a train every two minutes or less for much of the day.

And they’ll be long trains – four Mark II cars or six Mark I cars – for maximum capacity.

Despite all that, long waits are expected to board SkyTrain from downtown stations, particularly in afternoons and early evenings after major events end.

“We’re looking at an hour to an hour-and-a-half for those downtown stations in that afternoon to evening period,” TransLink’s Craig said.

“The period between 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. is going to be the most busy, especially for getting out of downtown.”

It will be like a Canucks’ game and a major concert letting crowds out together, but almost every day and sometimes multiple times a day.

“I’m not quite sure if the public is ready for this test of their patience yet,” said Don MacLeod, president of the union representing bus drivers.

TransLink staff will be on hand to keep line-ups at stations organized.

Those waiting may be offered water and hot drinks and approved buskers will provide entertainment.

The lines are part of the experience, says Hardie, who advises striking up conversations with neighbours.

Staff will try to make sure trains out of downtown don’t go out completely packed so there’s room for others to board further along.

Spare trains could be kept in reserve midway along the lines and be activated if volumes become a problem.

Gaming the transit system

Veteran rush-hour SkyTrain commuters from Surrey sometimes ride in the opposite direction to the end of the line to get a seat at King George Station for the ride downtown.

Don’t expect that to work in reverse from Vancouver during the Olympics.

TransLink says it won’t allow people boarding at stations like Granville or Stadium to backtrack to Waterfront to out-manoeuvre the throngs heading eastbound.

But there are other tricks that could pay off.

Expect the Canada Line to be very busy because it connects not just downtown, Richmond and the airport, but the O-Zone live site in Richmond, the Yaletown live site and the Athletes Village, where many people will stop to take the free 2010 streetcar to Granville Island.

Unlike the busier Expo Line, which crosses the Fraser River into Surrey, traffic tends to be lighter on the Millennium Line through eastern Burnaby.

The Millennium Line terminus at VCC-Clark Station (Clark Drive and 6th Avenue) may prove the easiest place near downtown to catch SkyTrain outbound and may be well worth the extra walk, bus or cab ride to reach – even for Surrey- or Langley-bound passengers who’d have to transfer to the Expo Line in New Westminster.

Northeast sector residents heading home will want to take the M-Line anyway if they can’t board West Coast Express.

Boarding the Expo Line could be easier one stop south at Main Street/Science World station than at Stadium, which may be extremely busy at times when people leave B.C. Place and Canada Hockey Place.

Stay too late?

Those who party too late and miss the last SkyTrain run out of downtown (1:15 a.m. for Canada Line, 2:05 a.m. for the Millennium Line and 2:28 a.m. for Expo Line) will still be able to board night buses that will run all night.

Seven night bus routes, including ones paralleling the Expo Line out to Surrey, the Millennium Line/97 B-Line to Coquitlam and up Lonsdale in North Vancouver, will run every 30 minutes until regular morning service restarts. (Click here for extended night bus service details.)

Got tickets to a venue?

Anyone who has tickets to an Olympic event automatically has free transit for the day on TransLink’s system.

That’s good for venues like hockey, speed skating and curling, but trips to the mountain venues at Cypress and Whistler on Vanoc’s Olympic Bus Network require purchase of a separate transit pass and a seat reservation.

Those buses depart from SFU in Burnaby, BCIT, Langara College, Lonsdale Quay and Capilano University. For details see www.travelsmart2010.ca.

There’s no parking at any venues.

Spectators may need to allow three hours to get to local events in Vancouver and Richmond.

Even factoring out transit travel times, an hour may be needed to clear security and get into seats before events starts. If you have no bag or a small bag you’ll get an express line through the airport-style security.

The not-so-open road

Anyone who has to commute to work downtown is urged to try to avoid travel between 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.

West Vancouver commuters who drive into Vancouver may be in for the worst traffic the Games can dish out.

Olympic-only lanes leading to the Lions Gate Bridge will slow their progress, as will downtown congestion and road closures.

Anyone who normally goes through downtown to points like Broadway or Kitsilano may be better off detouring east via the Ironworkers Memorial bridge, according to Hardie, who also suggests SeaBus, shifting hours or working from home.

People who do drive downtown are asked to try to carpool with others, using www.ride-share.com.

Have fun!

Attitude is important.

Hardie believes even the grumpiest locals will get caught up in the enthusiasm of the masses.

“The people coming here are so stoked, so excited,” he said.

“This is 16 days of amazing stuff that we will probably not see in our region again. If we go in with the attitude it’s going to be horrible, it’s going to be horrible. If we get our heads in the right space, we’re going to have a great time.”



BEFORE YOU LEAVE HOME

• Plan your route at www.travelsmart2010.ca or with Google Maps. Print out any route maps and times you may want.

• Buy any prepaid transit tickets you’ll need at any fare dealer.

• Pack lightly and wear warm, waterproof layers and good footwear – you may be standing in transit and walking considerable distances. See www.vancouver2010.com/olympic-spectator-guide/


STAY INFORMED

• Follow @TransLink on Twitter and get instant service alerts pushed to your smart phone or computer.

• NextBus SMS service can instantly send your cellphone the scheduled times for the next buses coming to any given stop. Text the stop number to 33333.

• Check interactive maps for real-time congestion trouble spots at www.travelsmart2010.ca or www.vancouver2010.com.

• Listen to local radio or watch video monitors in stations for service alerts.

• For more info on the go, point your web-enabled cellphone to mobile site m.translink.ca or download the free TransLink app for iPhone.

• Ask for help: Blue-jacketed TransLink staff, volunteers wearing red “Ask me” buttons and others in line can assist.


BY THE NUMBERS

• Extra daily riders on transit: 250,000.

• Total daily riders during Games: 1 million.

• Extra vehicles: 160 buses, 48 SkyTrain cars and a new SeaBus.

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