The Canada Line is increasing the intensity of its service on Wednesday, with more trains and longer peak service hours – an escalation that raises questions about the future expansion of the $2-billion system.
PROTRANS BC, the contractor that operates the system, will add two more trains to the 14 two-car trains it currently runs at peak hours, a shift expected to reduce wait times.
Also, weekday peak service will start a half-hour earlier – at 6:30 a.m. – and run one hour later – until 7 p.m. On weekends and holidays, peak service will end an hour later each day, at 7 p.m.
"[Passengers] are going to notice that the interval between trains is shorter, that trains will be arriving more often, which means there won't be as much crowding on the system as we started to see, particularly in the morning and afternoon rushes," said Ken Hardie, a spokesman for TransLink, the regional transit service.
The Canada Line, which began operations in August, 2009, links Vancouver with Richmond, and includes a branch to Vancouver International Airport. It was the first such link between a Canadian downtown and its airport, and came along in time for the 2010 Winter Olympics, a high-profile show of what the system could do. It has continued to attract the kind of big crowds the system drew during the Games.
Mr. Hardie said the escalation in service was planned for about the two-year point of operations, and has come as weekday ridership hits 116,000 – far outstripping the original goal of 100,000 weekday riders by 2013.
"We're ahead of the curve in terms of ridership," Mr. Hardie said.
He said the next expected big debate about the Canada Line will probably involve whether to buy more cars.
This week's service increase means 16 of 20 train sets will be in use at any given time, but capacity can be increased by putting more trains out, he said.
"Demand is going to be the variable we're going to watch very carefully because every indication is that ridership is going to continue to grow."
But he said it is too soon to speculate about the specifics of cost or the source of funding for such expansion.
Gordon Price, a six-term Vancouver city councillor who is now director of the City Program on urban issues at Simon Fraser University, said he was not surprised by the uplift in service.
"The question now is, 'Has the system been undersized?' Are the platforms too small? Are we not building transit to the scale we may need it in the future?' "
Mr. Price, a frequent user of the system, noted that the plan to increase frequency doesn't open options, for example, for expanding platforms to accommodate longer trains.
"I don't think it's an imminent crisis by any means, but it will be fascinating and I would say, given five years, it will be really clear whether we undersized the system," he said. "If those are the problems of success we've got, we're really doing great. I like those problems."
Mr. Price said the line has effectively linked areas such as downtown and city hall, and connected such destinations as Oakridge Mall to the rest of the city.
"Everyone learns the part of the system that really works for them," he said.