The Non-Partisan Association (NPA) wants to bring downtown streetcars back to Vancouver. Mayoral candidate Suzanne Anton announced downtown streetcars as a key part of her party’s platform.
“It’s green, it’s tourist, it’s cultural, it’s old, it’s young and reaches a lot of citizens in the city. The feeling we get [from residents] is absolutely do it. Find a way,” said George Affleck, NPA candidate for city council.
Streetcars are not part of the city’s 2012-2014 Capital Plan. “The streetcar is an important project and one that would have tremendous benefits for the city,” said Jerry Dobrovolny, the city’s director of transportation.
“But it’s not our number one priority. Our number one priority is rapid transit through Central Broadway and out to UBC.”
Streetcars ran for 60 days during the 2010 Olympic Games and had a peak ridership of 25,200 people per day. Dobrovolny compares that to Central Broadway which carries over 100,00 people daily, representing “only half of what it should.” The city already owns the right of way and has built a partial infrastructure for a possible streetcar route.
A 2009 study estimated the first phase of a streetcar project could connect Granville Island to Science World at a cost of $85 million.
The second phase to Stanley Park would be an additional $125 million and the final phase to Yaletown would be $50 million.
Streetcars are a “very rare mode of transportation to become self-sufficient,” said Penny Ballem, Vancouver’s city manager, “To remotely consider that would be a question of debt.”
Affleck maintains that despite the city’s revenue challenges, implementing the streetcar plan would be possible with the right investment partners.
“[For] any system, you look for partners. First with fellow government partners and then after that to your private partners,” Affleck said. No potential private partners have been identified so far. “Its too soon to say,” he added.[pullquote]I just always prefer to take transit because it’s faster, more convenient and costs less money than parking.[/pullquote]Anton stated that she would seek support from the federal government since the streetcar would connect Granville Island and Canada Place.
Dobrovolny confirmed that Granville Island has been a strong supporter. “They have a lot to benefit from the system. It would provide improved transit capacity right to their front door,” he said.
The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), the federal agency that manages Granville Island, previously contributed to studies forecasting costs and ridership. In addition, the CMHC contributed $500,000 out of the $8.5 million invested to run the Olympic line. There is no formal commitment from the Government of Canada for continued funding.
Transit options in a growing city
There are many existing transit options into downtown Vancouver although Granville Island is the exception. It is served by a single bus route.
Jasna Sokolovic is frustrated by that. She’s an independent artist who usually bikes or walks to work on the island. Sokolovic used the Olympic line streetcar line heavily and said it would be “a great connection between Granville Island and the SkyTrain.”
“The number 50 bus doesn’t come all the way on to the island. No other public transit comes to the island.” said Sokolovic. She wants the streetcars back.
“Parking is always really annoying, especially here so I just always prefer to take transit because it’s faster, more convenient and costs less money than parking, ” said Meagan Braun. She drives to Granville Island to drop her young daughter off at theatre class every Sunday.
Large numbers of people used the streetcars during the Olympics and now it is up to the city to decide whether re-introducing them is feasible.
Affleck remains optimistic: “Let’s build it. Let’s find a way to do this.”