August 8, 2011

Canada Line Undersized?

A story in the Globe today on expansion of Canada Line service:

The Canada Line is increasing the intensity of its service on Wednesday, with more trains and longer peak service hours – an escalation that raises questions about the future expansion of the $2-billion system.

PROTRANS BC, the contractor that operates the system, will add two more trains to the 14 two-car trains it currently runs at peak hours, a shift expected to reduce wait times. …

This week’s service increase means 16 of 20 train sets will be in use at any given time, but capacity can be increased by putting more trains out, (Ken Hardie) said.

“Demand is going to be the variable we’re going to watch very carefully because every indication is that ridership is going to continue to grow.”

My take:

Gordon Price, a six-term Vancouver city councillor who is now director of the City Program on urban issues at Simon Fraser University, said he was not surprised by the uplift in service.

“The question now is, ‘Has the system been undersized?’ Are the platforms too small? Are we not building transit to the scale we may need it in the future?’ ”

Mr. Price, a frequent user of the system, noted that the plan to increase frequency doesn’t open options, for example, for expanding platforms to accommodate longer trains.

“I don’t think it’s an imminent crisis by any means, but it will be fascinating and I would say, given five years, it will be really clear whether we undersized the system,” he said. “If those are the problems of success we’ve got, we’re really doing great. I like those problems.”

Perhaps PT readers have some thoughts  on this ….

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  1. There’s a couple of things to remember:

    -the system can run trains with about 90 second headways (dramatically more frequently than now)
    -the stations are all designed for limited expansion (to handle 3 car trains)

    The first point means they can about triple the current rush hour service provided they have the trains to do it. The second point gives them another 50% on top of that again, albeit at a significant cost.

  2. While I am delighted with the apparent ‘success’ of the line, I am disturbed by a number of aspects of its design. The absence of underground connections to other corners which could accommodated future redevelopment at different stations; the small platforms; and the oftentimes awful station designs. I am interested to know how many of these failures might be attributable to the P3 structure used to design, build and operate the system.

    Personally, I would like to see a thorough review of the decision making process leading up to the final system design as soon as possible, so that we can better understand why and how certain decisions were made, before the design of the next system is finalized.

  3. Not that the Port Mann – Highway 1 project will (or could) eradicate all bottlenecks (up or downstream), but when it comes to highways, Victoria definitely didn’t cheap out and build a ‘3 car platform’ over the Fraser…

  4. The majority of the stations can handle a 3 car train, with a shorter engine-less car in the middle. From what I recall, I believe a few stations (mairne drive) need to be lengthened to accommodate the 3 cars.

  5. The capacity would have been specified by the transit planners – the successful bidder would have selected the means of achieving that capacity (long skinny trains (i.e. Skytrain, Montreal metro, LRT) or fat stubby trains (what was built). Canada Line’s Hyundai tarins are 3.0m wide (same at TO’s subway) whereas MKII SkyTrain cars are 2.6m wide (same as a typical LRT).

    As with Copenhagen’s and any other automated mini-metro, capacity is provided by short trains and frequent service. It’s the frequent service that fails to register on paper, maps or floorplans. You can have a long skinny train, but if it provides infrequent service, the carrying capacity suffers.

    Ken Hardie was quoted in one of the other newspapers referencing the line carrying 200,000 per day during the Olympics -> in its present configuration (i.e. existing platforms, existing number of trains (maybe all 20 trains in service with no spares), no third car) – so there’s plenty of future capacity. You just have to realize that it’s not profitable to provide transit service with such sparse ridership that everyone gets a seat.

    Bottom line is that a system spec’d for a lot of future expansion woud have cost a lot more – and with people complaining about the “high” price tag as it was, then it probably never have been built if the cost were any higher (amazing how people wish for “extras” without knowing how to pay for it) – i.e. it would have taken money away fro the Eergreen Line.
    We’ll never need full heavy subway scale capacity in Vancouver – downtown Vancouver doesn’t have the office towers (nor head offices) of Toronto – the as-built should do just fine.

    And if it ever does near capacity, the Arbutus corridor is there for a parallel line to downtown.

    1. Keep in mind, the Olympics also saw lineups of more than 20 minutes at some stations on the Canada Line. That’s not a sustainable situation for any transit system during normal operations.

  6. I’m very grateful for the canada line as is, lumps and all.

    remember the political climate when we built this thing – naysayers were saying the ridership goals were pie-in-the-sky and all sorts of groups were ready to kill it. Remember 2004?

    There is no rational reason why we should risk the entire public-transit system–80 percent of which is buses–on an expenditure where there is dubious assurance that the ridership will arrive,” [Vancouver councillor] Cadman told the Straight .

    TransLink bears 100 percent of the cost of ridership shortfalls. (Pitt Meadows mayor] MacLean told the Straight that he questions RAVCo’s claim that the number of transit passengers in the Vancouver-Richmond corridor will have increased from 40,000 to 100,000 per day by the time the RAV line opens in 2009.

    “If people were going to move in those numbers, you would have seen them on the 98-B [bus] line,” MacLean said. “It didn’t happen.”

  7. The story that’s ignored is that they could have done this years ago in response to the higher than expected demand if they hadn’t written such a restrictive P3 contract. In fact, the publicly operated skytrain can increase capacity with the flick of a switch for only the cost of electricity, but because of the P3 contract, on Canada Line it costs an inordinate amount in fees. That’s why we have 20 trains and yet only 14 have run daily thus far, and only 16 now. That’s still not much of an improvement.

    The lesson should be to avoid any P3 deals on trains in the future that include operation of the system. It ruins flexibility.

      1. That’s a whole other issue, I’d say. I’m speaking to operational control of the system, and the need to have public ownership and operation of the finished product so that the transportation authority has the flexibility to respond to ridership patterns, which a private operator with a fixed level of service in a contract isn’t going to do, and isn’t going to allow to be done for free, either. It’s the difference between the expo and millenium lines, which can add more capacity like turning on a tap, and the canada line, which has this rigid schedule of service increases of fixed amounts only.

      2. I completely agree with you Tessa, I prefer a 100% publicly funded transit line like the E and m -lines with said flexability.

        The problem is to try to convince the populace and politicians of the need to adequately fund a transit corridor to accomidate future growth. Derek Corrigan is apopleptic about paying the new gas tax and other initiatives in the new funding proposal. There is no further money from ottawa and victoria, especially as the HST referendum is still pending. people are advocating LRT for the evergreen and broadway lines to save capital costs now with impacts for future service. And all this over a $400 million funding gap. For comparison, IntransitBC provided $720 million for capital costs.

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