Things that Work: The 7th in a series on a better B.C.

Canada Line delivers a smooth ride

Vancouver — From Tuesday's Globe and Mail

A Canada Line rapid transit train crosses over the Fraser River from Vancouver to Richmond, B.C., as Grouse Mountain is seen in the distance. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

The Canada Line earned Ryan Campbell's affection by sparing him the daily ordeal of taking four buses and walking two kilometres to get to his job in Richmond.

Much of that grind for the 20-year-old West Vancouver resident has been erased by the $2-billion system, which began running last August and is the first in Canada to link a downtown to its airport.

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But it's the line past the airport to central Richmond that cheers Mr. Campbell.

On a chill, blustery December night, Mr. Campbell is far from the airport, disembarking from Richmond-Brighouse - the southernmost station - for a quick walk to his customer service job at a London Drugs outlet.

"It's perfect," Mr. Campbell said when asked about his views of the Line. "If [the Canada Line]wasn't around, I couldn't make it to this place I'm working at so easily."

Because of stops through Richmond and at such Vancouver-area fixtures as the airport, City Hall, the burgeoning Olympic Village neighbourhood, Yaletown and the downtown SeaBus terminal, the Canada Line has picked up considerable support.

Daily Canada Line ridership has occasionally topped 100,000, which is the break-even threshold for the system covering its operating costs. That level comes about three years ahead of schedule.

Including weekends, the Canada Line is averaging 92,852 riders a day, said Steve Crombie, spokesman for InTransitBC, builder and operator of the system.

"The trend is increasing. We've been seeing weekly increases since the line started," he said.

Critics focus on the fact that the Canada Line came before the much-needed Evergreen Line to the northeast, the devastating impact of street-gouging construction on businesses in the Cambie Village area of central Vancouver, and that some bus routes were trimmed or eliminated as a result of its opening.

But the line is crowded with its fans.

They include Steven Nelson, a 34-year-old Bell Canada technician who is in the Lower Mainland from Toronto these days for work related to the 2010 Olympics.

Mr. Nelson, also disembarking at Richmond-Brighouse, said that without the line he would have been relying on buses to get to work, which he suggested was not an enticing prospect.

"Overall, I think the service is great."

Gordon Price, a six-term Vancouver city councillor who is now director of the city program at Simon Fraser University, said things appear to be going "pretty damn well" for the system.

He said he has been struck by the number of passengers toting and pushing their luggage. Mr. Price said he was skeptical business travellers would be interested in taking a system that compelled them to take their luggage to and from the stations.

"What I hadn't taken into account was the downsizing of luggage to carry-on and wheels. You can sure see it, pretty dramatic," he said. "It brought a class of people, who normally didn't take transit into their thinking and got them aboard … both literally and enthusiastically."

Mr. Price has been using the line to get from his home in Vancouver's West End to the downtown campus of SFU, taking a bus to the Vancouver-City Centre stop for the line.

"It's kind of an enjoyable trip in the sense that I get to see that transit culture in action, which I kind of enjoy."

He also uses it to get to Vancouver City Hall, the airport, and has used it to go for dim sum at the critically acclaimed Chinese restaurants in Richmond.

His one big criticism: No station in the midst of the shops, restaurants and other businesses of bustling Cambie Village.

"Particularly after the hardship they went through, it would have made sense," he said.

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