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More than 80,000 take a free ride on Vancouver's new Canada Line

Monday, August 17, 2009 from Vancouver Sun

More Images » Grady Stanyer, 10, joined thousands of patrons who tried out the Canada Line train that officially opened Aug. 17, 2009.Photograph by: Jenelle Schneider, Vancouver SunMETRO VANCOUVER — Tens of thousands of Metro Vancouver residents waited more than two hours Monday for a free ride on the new $2-billion Canada Line, backing up several stations and clogging pockets of Vancouver’s downtown core.

The lineups started forming hours before the new rapid transit line opened at 1 p.m. and by early afternoon, the crowds snaked around Vancouver’s Waterfront Station, filled up Granville Square and spilled over onto Hastings Street in the downtown, and into the departure lounge at the airport.

By 3 p.m., TransLink was urging passengers to get off at Waterfront, YVR and Richmond-Brighouse stations and wait in line for the return trip to let others have a chance to ride the train.

Five extra trains were added during the evening rush hour — bringing the total to 19 — to help ease the crush, while 11 extra buses were brought in to help reduce the overflow crowds waiting for the 98 B-Line between Vancouver and Richmond as well as the No. 41 and No. 99 B-Line along Broadway.

“We had just about every bus pushed into service,” TransLink spokesman Drew Snider said.

The lines were capped at certain stations at 7 p.m. although TransLink said no passengers would be left stranded.

“It’s a good test for the system in terms of carrying this many people,” TransLink spokesman Ken Hardie said. “The crowds have been big, but they’ve been patient.”

Close to 10,000 people an hour were riding the line and TransLink had counted 80,000 passengers by the time the service stopped at 9 p.m.

The service was free on opening day to celebrate the opening of the transit line linking Vancouver, Richmond and the airport.

Premier Gordon Campbell and Stockwell Day, the federal minister of international trade, cut a ribbon this morning at Vancouver International Airport to officially open the new line. Then they joined other dignitaries and media for a ride into downtown Vancouver.

The opening day drew everyone from seniors to families and disabled people. At least half a dozen wheelchairs and a man with a seeing-eye dog were among those on the first train.

At Waterfront, passengers were unfazed by the long wait for the train and remained in line despite warnings they would have to get off at the airport and wait another two hours to get back on again.

It was the same at Vancouver City Centre, where some trains were terminated to ease the crush at Waterfront. At the airport, crowds stretched from the platform, down the stairs to Level 3 and out onto the departures level.

“We don’t mind waiting,” said Vancouver resident Loro Cadman, as she stood in line at Granville Square. “We’re retired and it’s an historic thing.”

Cadman said the new rapid transit line should reduce the time it takes to make her frequent trips to Steveston. Now, rather than take a bus to Richmond Centre, she can hop on the train.

Several travellers, including Shea Ferguson of Fernie, were among the first to use the new line from the airport to downtown, while Niels Goverse got to the airport using the new line.

“It’s amazing,” Goverse said. “Otherwise I would have to use the 98 B-Line and it’s really packed so this is really good. It’s definitely a better system.”

Shauna Stanyer and her two children travelled from Port Coquitlam for “an adventure” on the new line. The trio had to wait two hours at Waterfront, but Stanyer said the trip was worth it and the family would definitely take the line to the airport whenever they travelled.

Hardie said that overall, the day went fairly smoothly. There were a few glitches, including things falling on the guideway, a cranky elevator and a few problems with the doors.

Several passengers inadvertently hit the emergency stop buttons, which forced the trains to halt on the bridge over the Fraser River or at stations, and required emergency personnel to rush to the scene.

The Canada Line, which is touted as the equivalent of a 10-lane highway, is expected to take 200,000 one-way automobile trips off the road when it reaches its forecast ridership. It will start up again Tuesday with the first train leaving Waterfront at 4:50 a.m. Fares are $3.75 one way.

Hardie expects the passenger load to be lighter Tuesday, which will help TransLink ramp up slowly toward Sept. 7 and the Labour Day rush when several express buses, including those from White Rock and Delta, will no longer go downtown but will be rerouted to Bridgeport Station. The 98 B-Line will also stop running at that time, in an attempt to funnel more people onto the new line.