Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Standing Room Only

I've been a regular SkyTrain rider for long enough now, I think, to start picking up on some patterns. Enough that I can tell there seems to have been a definite upswing in ridership since late 2010, in keeping with that massive wall ad in Granville Station that crows about how Metro has experienced a 9% increase in transit usage since the Olympics. (Incidentally, I think the Olympics might be a good "year zero" for a Vancouver-specific calendar, "Before the Olympics" and "After the Olympics," much like a civilization arising after a nuclear war might divide their calendar into "Before the Apocalypse" and "After the Apocalypse.") One thing I've noticed in particular is that when I'm travelling during the week, it's becoming more and more difficult to avoid trains that are already packed to the rafters - even when you're boarding at Granville.

It happens to me fairly regularly on my usual trips into and away from downtown Vancouver, partially because I seem to have a particular knack for arriving on the platform when the next train is an Expo Line train to Surrey. Though the lines aren't signed when trains are westbound, it's always blindingly obvious when an Expo Line train pulls into Columbia Station; it's the one that's already full. Presumably it had been full ever since pulling out of Surrey Central Station, where more than twenty bus routes pulling in riders from across the southland converge. By the same token, when I arrive on the Granville platform shortly after my 9:30 clockout, not only is the platform packed once the train arrives, but it's almost always an Expo Line train that's packed as well. Nine times out of ten, it seems to be a Mark I train on top of that, which only makes the ensuing ride even more fun. Even if it's not crammed then, if it's a game day, there'll be a hundred or so people shoving aboard at Stadium/Chinatown.

On the whole, if you considered the ridership figures of the SkyTrain in conjunction with the capacity of its rolling stock, I wouldn't be surprised if in that respect it proved to be busier than the Toronto subway. Outside of rush hours, I don't remember ever encountering crowds like I do here - but it feels like you could fit an entire SkyTrain inside a Toronto subway train and have room left over.

Don't misunderstand me - I'm not trying to complain about the room. I sit down at work, it's nice to be able to stand up for a while, all I'm looking for in that circumstance is something to lean on that isn't a door that could theoretically open between stations and send me tumbling to the ground. I'm used to such conditions, and the only real annoyance I have is the way my arm starts to get tired when I'm holding on to one of the poles. No, what I'm trying to consider is the view of someone who's new to transit, or only an occasional user of transit - how welcoming is a train going to be when some people have to get off just to allow riders to alight?

It looks a lot smaller than it really is from this perspective.

I ran the numbers to see if it was cost-effective for me to use transit, but that was only because of my curiosity; I have no intention of trading my FareCard for an ignition key. However, I'm not the sort of person that TransLink really needs to consider; most people wouldn't run those numbers. The important people in this consideration are, I think, the occasional riders - the riders by choice. Many of them would look at the packed conditions, at the cars where there's not much chance of hurting yourself in the event of a sudden braking maneuver because you've got a dozen people around you to cushion your fall, and ask themselves why they weren't just driving. At least when you're behind the wheel of a car you don't have strangers pressing in on you from every direction.

I'm not sure what TransLink's loading standards are. Still, if Surrey's population continues growing without a concomitant expansion of the employment sector in the southland, trains connecting Surrey and Vancouver are only going to become more crowded. It's something that won't be solved easily, but there are a lot of ways to go about it - additional trains, lower headways, the exclusive use of bigger Mark II trains on the Expo Line, and more long-term concepts like the extension of West Coast Express service across the Fraser to provide another route to Vancouver. Hell, maybe we could convince some other city to build an ICTS network just so there'd be someone to unload the old trains onto.

The only thing that can't be done, if Metro's transit network is to gain greater relevance in the future, is nothing.

1 comment:

  1. I feel your pain, as I experience much the same thing using the London tube system :/