in paris, the automobile is the alternative…

January 10, 2008

apologies to everyone – particularly to gillian jerome – that i’ve been (again) neglectful on updating the blog.

there has been a good deal of coverage on a funny topic lately: 24-hour service on skytrain.

while the people advocating for improved transit service certainly mean well, it is logistically impossible to run vancouver’s metro all night every night. unfortunately, it is a clear example of people trying to get something for nothing.

the goal of a metro system is to move a large number of people along a given corridor as quickly as possible. this model, of course, only works when you have, in fact, a large number of people to move along a given corridor. in vancouver, this is largely not possible late at night. the ridership would be too low, and the security costs would be too high (to run skytrain without any kind of security at 4 am would creep a lot of people out enough to not use it – including me, and i’m more than fine to walk along east hastings at 4 am). so, barring a public subsidy, or charging a supplementary fare (copenhagen mandates a double fare for late-night travel – meaning 38 DKK, or about $7.50 CAD per journey; of course, with translink’s new fare increase, at $5 CAD one-way from downtown vancouver to central surrey, copenhagen fares would be a bargain if translink charged a 100% supplement).

imagine a system in vancouver like in paris: no single-trip fare allows for transfer between subway and bus or tram. does it work in paris? it could stand to be improved IMHO, but it generally works. would it work in vancouver? absolutely not. in a city where there are only two metro lines, this would be doomed to fail since most people must use surface transit (i.e. bus, seabus or other mode) in addition to their skytrain trip.

so why is this? the answer is simple: we’re tied to the american dream…even though we’re not american. the single detached home is unsustainable in the long run. a massive shift in cultural values of what embodies successful neighbourhoods will need to occur in order to have top-notch public transit in greater vancouver.

of course, there are situations where it would be possible, and certainly – on the issue of some compromise options might be put into place.

now, i know that some cities run their metro systems 24 hours a day. new york, chicago, berlin and copenhagen all run some rail service all night. let’s look at the first three.

new york, chicago and berlin all run 24-hour service, but there is a caveat. not all lines run 24-hours (seeing as how the millennium line, without the coquitlam or ubc extensions, is appalingly underused outside of rush-hour, i can guarantee that translink would not run it 24 hours a day) and those that do are lines with express services running as well. what this means is that maintenance can be carried out on either the express tracks or the local tracks while service trains use the other for carrying passengers. in berlin, this is slightly different: the u-bahn only runs 24-hours on the weekend, and the s-bahn (regional rail system) – which is owned by the deutche bahn (german national railways) – can (in theory) afford a larger subsidy than the berliner verkehrsbetriebe (berlin transit company) as well as having national rail lines on which to run their services through the city centre.

this is the bad news: vancouver cannot supply the demand for 24-hour skytrain – usually.

there is, however, some good news: now, copenhagen’s system is like skytrain in one respect: it is automatically-driven, without need for a human conductor. what this means is that it is very easy to run on one track while the other is undergoing maintenance. ergo, while 24-hour service is not economically viable, it is technically viable.

therefore, here are a few compromise solutions:

1. have skytrain run extended hours on friday and saturday nights, as well as nights preceding a bank holiday, perhaps until 3:30 am – a half-hour later than bar closing times, and delaying opening hours by the same amount of time in the morning.

2. operate single-track operation before revenue service is over so as to reduce maintenance times and allow skytrain to run longer.

3. on special nights (new year’s eve, festival of lights, etc.), run 24-hour skytrain service (as appropriate), since a lack of maintainance for one day will not make a large difference.

4. drastically increase the capacity of the nightbus system – run them longer and more frequently; especially on friday, saturday and holiday sunday evenings (and, for the love of god, use an articulated bus on the N19 route).

5. allow the bars to operate until the provincial limit (4 am) or lobby the province to increase the bar closing hour to 6 am and apply this limit to local by-laws; this will curb the disaster of cutting people off at 3 am on granville street. (i never once saw a fight in the street in paris – except once, when people got cut off.) in addition to making the night bus network much easier to deal with, it will mean that plenty of people will miss the last train home, but they’ll instead catch the FIRST train home.

so, basically, vancouver will not work as a world city until its people start behaving like world citizens. unfortunately, seeing as this place is too content with allowing itself to be transformed into condo-city, with no other kind of…diversity…i’m just about ready to give up on “paradise”.

is anyone else as pissed off as i am over the fact that gay men now can’t donate their organs (as if not being able to donate blood wasn’t bad enough)? sigh. i really should have left a litre of blood (and maybe a kidney too) in france while i had the chance. y’know, spill a bit of blood for la république like many others had done before me for a country that, increasingly, seems like more of a home than here in the global provinces.


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