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Mar 4,2007

By Jeff Nagel Black Press
Mar 04 2007

Bus ridership in Greater Vancouver’s eastern suburbs soared last year, far out-pacing growth in the rest of the transit system.

New statistics from TransLink show a 16% increase in bus trips south of the Fraser River and a 12.8% increase in the northeast sector, which includes the Tri-Cities, Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge.

“I think that’s a reflection of the growth in those particular areas,” TransLink planning vice-president Glen Leicester said in an interview.

In contrast, bus ridership grew just under 1% in the Vancouver-Burnaby-New Westminster-Richmond area and there was no increase from 2005 on the North Shore.

TransLink’s 2006 year-end statistics show bus ridership grew 2.5% region-wide – 0.8% below what had been forecast.

The numbers would have been stronger, Leicester said, had it not been for bad winter weather in November and December that played havoc with trolley service in Vancouver and buses in Surrey-Langley and the North Shore.

The number of trips taken on all types of public transit in Greater Vancouver last year rose by 3.4%, a pace faster than expected.

In a report to TransLink’s board, Leicester credits a combination of the region’s population growth, bus service improvements and the rising cost of driving.

“Higher gas prices caused more residents to switch trips from cars to transit,” the report said. “Strong regional economic growth generated increased transit demand.”

The 165 million passenger trips recorded last year was more than the 2.6% increase TransLink forecast.

Gas prices peaked at about $1.20 per litre in May and were higher than in 2005 in all but two months.

That was a significant factor in some passengers opting to take transit rather than drive, the report says.

Overall, transit use continues to rise faster than population growth.

The average Greater Vancouverite now takes 76 trips per year on transit. That’s up from 63 trips in 1998.

The strongest passenger growth in 2006 came on the West Coast Express train service, which recorded more than two million passengers, up 8.6%.

That’s clearly the result of higher gas prices, the TransLink report says.

“More commuters in Mission, Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows and the northeast sector are finding West Coast Express to be an economical alternative to driving for long distance trips.”

SkyTrain use was also strong – up 5.8% to more than 40 million passengers.

Rapid transit use is growing fastest along the Millennium Line, due to rapid development around stations like Gilmore and Brentwood Town Centre in Burnaby.

The report also shows the system is in some cases at the limit of the volume it can handle.

SkyTrain now runs with full loads in peak directions between Broadway and downtown and the report says that won’t ease until 34 new cars go into service in 2009.

Continued growth is expected, however, at off-peak times or the reverse direction.

The report also warns some park and ride lots are now at capacity, including the Scott Road Park and Ride in Surrey and the West Coast Express park and rides.

TransLink also reports a continued increase in the number of passengers buying monthly passes.

TransLink sold nearly 10% more monthly passes last year.

“The new federal tax credit for transit passes that took effect in July 2006 appears to be contributing to the increase in pass usage and ridership growth,” the report said.

TransLink is predicting total ridership will climb another 4.9% this year to 173 million.

Leicester acknowledged complaints about transit congestion and said 74 more buses slated to go into service by the end of 2007 will help reduce overcrowding.

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