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March 23,2010 Tri City News

Olympic transit may turn small profit

Higher fare revenue during the Olympics should ensure TransLink at least breaks even on the extra service it added to carry huge numbers of passengers to free concerts, pavilions and street parties.

Vanoc is paying TransLink $17 million to cover the extra transit added to handle Games spectators whose tickets included an extra fee for transit use as well as workers and volunteers.

But far more people boarded the system than the expected numbers going to official Games venues.

Final statistics released Monday show an average of 1.58 million people used transit each weekday of the Olympics, up 31 per cent from normal levels.

That meant running most of the system at or near capacity during the Games and running not just the 160 reserve buses TransLink had readied but still more by raiding spares in the maintenance yards.

Those extra costs should be more than covered by the cash fares as well as discount tickets and passes sold during the Games, spokesman Ken Hardie said.

"We'll probably do a little bit better than break-even," he said, adding the accounting isn't finished but a big profit isn't expected.

More than 26 million people rode transit during the 17 days of the Olympics and they overwhelmingly took rapid transit lines.

Canada Line carried an average of 228,000 people per Olympic weekday more than double a normal weekday. It hit more than triple normal levels on weekends.

The Expo and Millennium Lines racked up 394,000 trips per weekday, up 64 per cent, but that ballooned to more than triple normal on Olympic Saturdays and four and a half times normal levels on Sundays.

SeaBus also ran at more than double its normal weekday levels, carrying nearly 44,000 daily. On weekends, SeaBuses carried around five times their normal numbers.

West Coast Express carried 58 per cent more passengers than normal, or 17,400 per day. One train rolled with a record 2,970 passengers, more than double the 1,350 seated capacity.

Regular buses, however, recorded only an eight per cent increase, to 896,000 daily boardings during the Games.

That didn't mean Olympics travellers shunned the bus system, Hardie said.

Instead, the lower number there is because of a roughly 30 per cent decline in regular transit passengers.

Universities weren't in session, many people scheduled holidays during the Games and still others found ways to telework rather than commute, Hardie said.

Building the price of transit into event tickets is something that could be pursued in the future with other major sports or cultural events, Hardie said.

"If we can work an arrangement like that with the Lions and the Canucks and some of the promoters that put on some of these big shows, then we'll do that," he said.

The theory is that concert- or game-goers whose tickets give them transit use would ride instead of drive and park, but making spectators pay for transit that they might not use would be a decision for event organizers.

The Olympic shift to transit depended heavily on a successful 30 per cent cut in vehicle trips into downtown, spurred by road and parking restrictions.

It was also crucial that key destinations were close to rapid transit stops.

Hardie said it was almost a temporary return to the old hub-and-spoke travel pattern where people overwhelmingly headed downtown.

The reality of daily Metro Vancouver commuting now is that trips crisscross the region with no consistent pattern and are much harder to serve by transit.

But TransLink CEO Ian Jarvis said one lesson of the Games is that it underscores the importance for efficient transportation of concentrating high-density housing, employment and other popular destinations along frequent transit corridors as the region grows.

Jarvis hopes what was a first-time experience taking transit for many will be repeated in the future.

He also said it was a chance to prove "what it's possible to deliver in the future."

TransLink quickly scaled back service to regular levels once the Games ended and is dependent on increased funding to carry out an aggressive expansion plan supported by Metro Vancouver mayors.



BY THE NUMBERS

Total Olympic trips: 26.1 million

Olympic weekday average: 1.58 million

SkyTrain (Expo/Millennium Lines) one-day record Feb. 20: 567,000

Canada Line one-day record Feb. 19: 287,400

Extra Park and Ride spaces opened: 4,900

Hits on online Trip Planner: 748,000

TransLink tweets on Twitter during Games: 800

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