Ridership on the West Coast Express dropped 5.5 per cent in 2017 compared to the previous year. (THE NEWS/files)

West Coast Express ridership down in 2017

TransLink says dip was predictable with Evergreen Line

Ridership on the West Coast Express commuter train dropped 5.5 per cent in 2017, at the same time as TransLink’s overall ridership reached an all-time high.

TransLink released its final ridership numbers for 2017 on Thursday, marking a record-breaking 407 million boardings.

That was an increase of 5.7 per cent over 2016.

“This growth demonstrates how investments like the Evergreen extension and the significant boost to transit service as part of the Mayors’ 10-Year Vision is continuing to make transit the preferred option in the region,” said a TransLink press release.

That same Evergreen extension, a 10.9-km stretch of SkyTrain that connects the Tri-Cities area to the rapid transit system, is likely responsible for the dip in West Coast Express ridership, said Chris Bryan of TransLink.

“We just added a pretty amazing piece of infrastructure,” he said, adding it was predictable there would be a dip in WCE ridership as commuters from the Fraser Valley had access to SkyTrain.

He agreed there was “a bad run of service delays” in November and December of 2016 that may have impacted the 2017 WCE ridership. He said those delays, which were related to CP’s use of the tracks for freight trains, have since been resolved.

More likely, he said, some riders have switched to the Evergreen Line, and others use it occassionally – on days when they prefer a more flexible schedule than that offered by WCE, to leave downtown Vancouver after dinner or shopping.

But, he said, WCE remains a premium service for commuters, and 2.32 million boardings in 2017 is still a significant number.

“West Coast Express is a great one-seat, one-way into town,” he said. “It’s a valued service and it will continue to grow over time.”

Boardings on all other modes of transportation across the system were up, including bus (3.2 per cent), Expo/Millennium lines (12 per cent), Canada Line (6.3 per cent) and Seabus (7.3 per cent).

Pitt Meadows Mayor John Becker said the increase in ridership is more impressive considering a North America-wide trend toward less transit use.

“The significant ridership boost is driven partly by the growth of the economic activity in Metro Vancouver, which was Canada’s fastest-growing metropolitan economy in 2017 and is experiencing its lowest unemployment rates since the 2007-2008 economic downturn,” said the TransLink press release.

Becker said TransLink’s commitments to increase all rail service between 2017 and 2026, including West Coast Express, has not changed. Future transit plans will proceed with bus links to rail service.

“The West Coast Express service is going to be enhanced – that is set in stone,” Becker said.

A key to ridership growth in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows will be the B-Line rapid transit, with dedicated lanes and limited stops, and TransLink will be putting more focus on that project in the coming months, said Bryan.

Becker said it will be important to integrate the B-Line stops into the community strategically.

“It’s not a billion-dollars worth of Skytrain, but it’s important,” he said.

Becker said anyone who travels frequently into Vancouver for school or business by vehicle fights congestion, and he predicts it will get worse as Vancouver gets rid of its traffic viaducts.

“There is a definite incentive to take public transit.”

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