Ridership on the West Coast Express continues to drop despite record numbers for the rest of TransLink ridership.
The latest numbers from TransLink shows a record-breaking month for ridership with 36 million transit boardings in September 2017, up 6.2 per cent from the same time last year.
Those numbers exclude the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in February of 2010.
The Expo/Millennium Line saw the biggest jump at 10.6 per cent from the same time as last year, with 9.2 million riders, up from the 8.3 million in September of 2016.
However, The West Coast Express was the only line that saw a drop. Ridership was down to 190,000 riders in September of 2017, compared to 210,000 last year, a 10.4 per cent drop.
It is the second straight drop in ridership for the West Coast Express, which saw a 6.1 per cent drop reported in July.
Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read maintains the West Coast Express is a critical service for the region and believes the drop has more to due with the opening of the Evergreen SkyTrain Line.
“People are probably just diverting,” said Read. “Riders in Coquitlam and Port Coquitlam are getting into the Evergreen Line instead of getting on the West Coast Express. The West Coast Express is more expensive.”
While Read said she would like to see SkyTrain make in way to Maple Ridge, she said the West Coast Express still provides a valuable option for the region.
“The West Coast Express is a really important service. A lot of those riders really appreciate the opportunity to get on and go right into downtown Vancouver. They work on the train. Riding the West Coast Express is not similar to riding the SkyTrain. It’s a big difference in terms of rider experience, said Read.
Chris Bryan, spokesperson for TransLink, agreed with Read. He said the drop-off in ridership was expected with the opening of the Evergreen Line serving Coquitlam and Port Coquitlam as riders explore new options commuting to and from Vancouver.
”What we’re seeing now is probably it when it comes to that shift in ridership. We’re seeing it stabilize now and we think more people are going to see more people use West Coast Express and we think it will start to trend upward in the coming months,” said Bryan.
Delays on the West Coast Express have been an issue with the service in the past. Freight trains that run on the same CP Rail line have thrown the schedule for transit in disarray that has prompted complaints from TransLink and area mayors.
TransLink and CP Rail are in year three of a 10-year deal for the West Coast Express in that corridor.
A strongly worded letter from the Mayors Council was sent in December of 2016 to federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau and CEO of CP Rail Hunter Harrison, looking for changes for the West Coast Express. The letter was sent out after 69 trains were delayed between Oct. 1 and Dec. 8, 2016.
Bryan said they worked closely with CP Rail following the rash of delays in 2016 and the rail company recognized changes needed to be made.
“At the same time, we’re still going to have delays from time-to-time. We have freight operating on these tracks and there are other factors but it’s really important to us to provide a consistent service to our customers,” said Bryan.
Despite the West Coast Express struggles, other transit ridership is trending up. For the nine months ending September 30, the number of average weekday journeys increased 6.2 per cent compared to the same period in 2016.
With the exception of February 2010 during the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, September saw a record-breaking month for ridership with 36 million transit boardings.
To date this year, there have been more than 306 million boardings system-wide on TransLink. It is expecting to surpass 400 million boardings in December, should the current trends continue.
TransLink said the growth in ridership is being driven by a combination of increased transit service, as well as the introduction of the Millennium Line Evergreen extension, completed in December 2016.
The Evergreen Line is an 11-kilometre extension connecting Coquitlam City Centre through Port Moody to Lougheed Town Centre in approximately 15 minutes.