What’s Next for Late-Night Transit Service?

What’s Next for Late-Night Transit Service?

Getting people home safely is our top priority 

In recent years, there has been growing concern about ensuring people have a safe and affordable option for getting out of downtown Vancouver late at night. This is especially important on weekends when thousands of people flock to the entertainment district—people who eventually need a safe ride home at the end of the night. 

With taxis in short supply and ride-hailing services currently unavailable in B.C., some people pointed to all-night SkyTrain service as the answer. At first glance, running the trains all night—at least on weekends—seems like a simple and straightforward fix. In reality, there are significant trade-offs and consequences to running the SkyTrain all night. 

We are committed to exploring all the options and finding solutions. That’s why we commissioned an independent study to get to the bottom of whether running trains all night on weekends was feasible and advisable. This report is the culmination of a year-long deep dive into what it would take to run SkyTrain all night on Friday and Saturday and what the trade-offs would be. During this time, we’ve been meeting with stakeholders, including local businesses, law enforcement, student groups and transportation partners to explore the options. 

The SkyTrain maintenance that happens overnight is absolutely crucial to our ability to run a safe and reliable SkyTrain system. Therefore, reducing maintenance time is simply a non-starter for us and it’s absolutely a non-starter for our customers. If we run the trains all night on weekends, each minute of this maintenance time would have to be made up elsewhere in the week. 

After examining in detail the nature and number of maintenance work orders during overnight periods, the engineers working on the study concluded that extending Skytrain hours overnight on Fridays and Saturdays would require us to reduce service amount during weekday hours, and shut down entirely on some statutory holidays to maintain adequate time for maintenance. 

Shutting down SkyTrain an hour earlier each weeknight would negatively affect more people than those who would benefit from all-night service on weekends. 

In fact, ending service an hour earlier Sunday to Thursday would affect nearly 1,000,000 customers annually. Many of these late-night weekday passengers are shift workers who count on that last hour of service to get home. This is compared to the 525,000 to 700,000 people who we estimate would use all-night service on weekends per year; and likely fewer once ride-hailing becomes an option. As you can see, that’s a very tough trade-off for us to make. 

We are currently rolling out our largest capital program ever, and that includes station upgrades and system expansion and much of that work occurs overnight. So what can we do to provide all-night service in a way that allows us to maintain and expand the SkyTrain system? This is where our conversations with stakeholders comes in. We already have all-night bus service on some routes. NightBus runs all night along key corridors throughout Metro Vancouver and covers more ground than the three SkyTrain lines combined. With our stakeholders, we have identified a suite of improvements we can make to the NightBus service, including proposed express routes. 

Over the coming months, we will look at offering a NightBus service that would shadow SkyTrain corridors as well as other possible enhancements to the NightBus network. The buses would make a limited number of stops at key stations along the way, starting at the same time SkyTrain shut downs for critical maintenance. Early testing suggests this service could be just as fast as SkyTrain and could be launched quickly once operational funding is secured. 

We are also making improvements in the short-term by adding NightBus service hours and by 2020, we will have increased service by nearly 60 per cent over 2016 levels. Some of these changes include: 

  • Making the NightBus District at the corner of Granville and Georgia a permanent feature in the Granville entertainment district. This gives customer a well-lit, easy-to-find place to catch a ride home. 
  • Extending the hours of the N17 to UBC so it’s available all night beginning September 2. 
  • Simplifying the N15 on Cambie to provide more direct service to YVR. 
  • Adding trips to the N19 between Vancouver and Surrey to address overcrowding. 
  • Extending the N9 to Port Coquitlam. 
  • Extending the hours of other NightBus routes. 

We are committed to helping our customers–workers and entertainment district patrons alike–get home safely. While the late-night SkyTrain service is ultimately not viable, we believe there are other very good options and we will work with the Mayors’ Council and our stakeholders to make it happen.