Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

“England brings in round-the-clock trains…”

with 2 comments

“…DVBIA says it’s time Metro Vancouver follows”

The headline comes from News1130 and, as usual, needs clarification.

But first, some background. On Saturday evening someone from News1130 and contacted me and wanted me to comment on their story. I suggested that they would do better to find someone from Translink. It appears from the on line version that they didn’t manage to get that.

To be clear, Transport for London is going to run underground trains on two lines overnight Friday and Saturday nights.

August 2016 Night Tube Underground leaflet map

Photo by BowRoadUK on flickr


There will be some other lines added later. This has not been easy to achieve as the unions were critical of the impact on their members. So only in London, and only a few lines: not the Overground and by no means round the clock everywhere.

[Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association’s] Gauthier says they’ve been told there are a number of things standing in the way of 24-hour service [on SkyTrain].

“You know, track maintenance, and there’s a whole list of things that come up as reasons. But I’m not suggesting those aren’t legitimate reasons, but hey, if London can do it, why can’t we! And certainly let’s start with a Friday and Saturday night.”

I do not know what else might be in that whole list of things. But I do know that the maintenance problems on SkyTrain are not trivial. So will anyone else who has tried to use SkyTrain, as breakdowns seem to have been more of a problem recently, and there has been an admission that maintenance needed to be improved.

Mr Gauthier might also recall that Translink was unable to secure a new source of funding for the rather long list of improvements that are deemed necessary to both catch up to recent increases in demand and better meet future needs, rather than rely solely on the province’s preferred method of expanding freeways. There is a shortage of resources, and even a “state of good repair” is a tall order when revenue from gas taxes is falling, due to people making better choices than driving everywhere and better fuel efficiency in vehicles.

If Translink does come up with more money, I think that there are many other more deserving areas than “Millennials … having to live further and further away from the downtown core.” The fact that they continue to seek entertainment in downtown Vancouver is important to some of Mr Gauthier’s membership but is perhaps less important than some other regional issues. Possibly the decisions to increase the number of seats at licensed premises on Granville Street needed to have considered transportation impacts, and come up with some way of meeting that “need” before expansion was permitted. There are night buses, and due to the lack of traffic at night, they provide much faster and more reliable service than they can during the day. I did not see any those making more money off the later openings offering any of it to transportation providers.

If Translink did extend SkyTrain service overnight it would not come free. There would need to be considerably increased security and policing – and that cost is actually higher than on systems that have to pay for additional train operators. Sadly the people who have spent a lot of time in bars tend to make more demands on  police than the rest of us.

If there is money available for some service expansion then I think it must go first to the most needy and worthwhile cause: HandyDART has long been underfunded and its service is nowhere near adequate. Its objective ought to be to provide a service that provides an equivalent level of mobility to people with disabilities as the rest of the population enjoys. Anything less than that is discrimination against an identifiable minority. And compared to the needs of people with restricted mobility all day and every day, the needs of the young and fit late at night on weekends pale into insignificance.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 22, 2016 at 12:30 pm

Posted in transit

Tagged with , ,

2 Responses

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  1. My immediate thought about 24h service on LUL was “And when are they going to maintain it?” It sounds like a nice idea but I don’t see you make that work, and have a functioning systemlong term.

    Stuttgart has no 24h service either, but a fairly dense newwork of ‘night buses’ to bring young hip insomniacs to bed.

    Andy in Germany

    August 23, 2016 at 3:48 am

  2. Some points to consider in the comparison with London:

    1. Most of the focus of public debate on all-night transit service for Metro Vancouver has been on the rail system (SkyTrain and Canada Line). However, without a network of connecting buses, it would provide effective service to only a few dozen circles (stations plus some walking distance) very unevenly distributed within the Metro Vancouver region. It would be the skeleton without flesh, and an unsatisfactory solution for many potential patrons.

    2. As Stephen noted, so far there are only 2 tube lines providing overnight service; and only on Friday and Saturday nights (the Jubilee Line will be added Oct. 7th); so it is a significant political statement and commitment, but actually with limited overall impact.

    3. Take note that transit fares in London are quite high, so TfL has a little more room to add service, although they are still financially constrained, as are all transit systems. Single-zone off-peak tube journey with an Oyster Card is £2.40 (over C$4.00, vs C$2.10 for Compass in Vancouver). Cash payment is a minimum of £4.90 (more than C$8.00!). And the fares go up for longer distances. (Fare policy, and the tradeoffs of paying for better service, is a separate debate!)

    4. Yes, there are quite a few bars and pubs in downtown Vancouver, but last time I checked (and yes, it has been a while), there was a tad more cultural activity and diversity in central London, so there is a huge difference in the volume of travel.

    5. Just about anything is “possible”, but sometimes at a significant cost. I haven’t seen a cost analysis of the LU Night Tube service, or full details on alternative maintenance plans, but it is bound to decrease maintenance work productivity, unless overnight operation is traded off against periodic weekend and weeknight closures. At some point, whether in London or Vancouver, power and train movement have to be shut down for maintenance access. Bus workarounds are easier at 3am than 3pm. Weekend shutdowns in Vancouver are now problematic due to the high volume of passengers (takes a lot of buses!) and heavy traffic congestion (tough to get buses moving reliably). SkyTrain passengers who endured the weeknight track upgrades know that taking even one section of track out of service causes significant delays and crowding.

    6. London and many other large cities (including Paris, Toronto, Montreal) have had extensive networks of all-night bus routes which typically run every 15 to 30 minutes throughout the night. See the schematic map for central London alone.

    7. By comparison, Vancouver’s NightBus network is very limited – a handful of routes radiating outwards from downtown; mostly with only 3 trips, leaving at roughly 2:10, 2:40 and 3:10am. Some recent changes have smoothed out some of the previous gaps, but there are still many anomalies. For example, last Expo Line train to Surrey leaves Waterfront at 00:15 on Sundays, resulting in a nearly 90-minute gap before the first N19, which is scheduled for 79 minutes from Granville to Surrey Central, vs 35 minutes by rail. It is a brutal local trip. The N9 (to Coquitlam Station via Broadway and Lougheed Highway) is also an endurance ride of 80 minutes, with big gaps from the last SkyTrain of the day, especially on Sundays.

    8. I do believe that Vancouver has reached the size and level of activity where an improved set of 24-hour transit services is warranted, and would provide the options for shift workers (early and late) as well as the partygoers. The extra bus services would require subsidy, but should still be able to recover an appreciable part of the operations cost. Part of bringing Vancouver into the 20th century. Then we can start to talk about the 21st century.

    Ian Graham

    September 5, 2016 at 12:44 pm

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