Archive for August 19th, 2009

I ride the buses at least as often as I do a private car, so I’m as pleased as anyone with the opening of the new Canada Line on the Skytrain system. But I do wish that when the media or casual conversation mentions the new rapid transit line, they would focus on what matters.

To start with, before anyone praises the fact that the line was opened three months early, let’s remember how that was done. It was done by ruthlessly ignoring the effects of construction on small businesses along the route. Dozens have closed as a result, and some may yet manage to get the compensation they deserve through the courts. And let’s not forget the hiring of foreign workers at sub-standard wages, or the farming of the management of the new line to private industry. If such things are the only way to finish a construction project early, then I think I might prefer delays.

For another, just as when the Millennium Line opened a few years ago, the commentators are babbling about the wonderful view on parts of the line. And it’s true that running seven meters off the ground, Vancouver’s transit lines can offer a better than usual view of the scenery. But, for those of us who will actually be using the line, the wonder of the view will last no more than a few trips. Soon, people will be reading, talking on the phone or fiddling with their music players, just as they always do on a routine trip.

The same is true of the comments made by the would-be architectural critics. What matters for daily travelers is not aesthetics, but practicalities. Are the stations well-lit? Are there enough signs so that people know where they are going? Are the stations safe? Can they accommodate the thousands of people passing through them during rush hour? The answers to all these questions seem mostly positive, although I’m willing to bet that the above ground platforms act like a wind tunnel, just as they do on the other lines. But what everyone seems to be commenting on is how the glass and metal and terra-cotta colored walls make an aesthetic experience.

To someone on transit as often as I am, the scenery and aesthetics soon fade into the background, except in unusual circumstances, such as an unusually vivid sunset. What regular riders like me want to know is something far simpler: Does the new line save us time?

I didn’t ride the line on the first day, when the fares were free. But I did ride it on the second day as I went about my business. So, I’m happy to report that, yes, the new line did save me time – some five to ten minutes compared to the bus when traveling across False Creek from Yaletown to Cambie and Broadway, and maybe twenty minutes total on my entire trip. Better yet, the connections were better than on my old route.

Obviously, how much time you save depends on where you’re going. But, for regulars, that is the real story in the new line – the time saved, and the relative convenience compared to the bus or the car. Most of the rest is background, at least for those who will actually be using the new line. I suppose the new line makes a change from the usual stories straight from the police’s media departments, but, as happens all too often nowadays, in this story the media is missing the point.

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