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Why doesn't Vancouver have a 24-hour SkyTrain?

This is why we can't have nice things.
Other major cities of the world have a 24/7 train service, why doesn't Vancouver?

The phrase "world-class city" gets thrown around a lot when discussing Vancouver. It suggests that the city is on the same level as London, New York, or Chicago.

Well, those cities all have something that Vancouver doesn't: a 24-hour train service.

Two of the CTA lines in Chicago are 24/7, five Tube lines in London run 24 hours a day on Fridays and Saturdays in addition to a night bus, and the New York Subway operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

So why can't we?

The short answer is infrastructure. New York has duplicate tracks for certain lines and Vancouver just doesn't have the existing capacity to make the switch.

TransLink has projected that an initial $20-million would be needed to upgrade and purchase maintenance facilities and equipment required for an overnight train and even then, the annual operating cost would be about $10-million.

Still, back in 2019 Vancouverites were given a brief glittering hope that TransLink was looking into the possibility of a 24-hour SkyTrain on Fridays and Saturdays (dubbed “24/2”) but the plan was pretty quickly kiboshed following a year-long technical study.

TransLink's reasons for rejecting an overnight SkyTrain service

The SkyTrains are automated and driverless. In theory, they are the perfect fit for a 24/7 service transit system. But, some parts of its infrastructure are 40 years old and require daily maintenance, most of which is done at night.

Nighttime maintenance includes station and vehicle cleaning, retrieving passenger belongings that could not be safely recovered during service, checking track components, and lubricating track switches.

Some tasks are performed biweekly but when investigating the possibility of a 24/2 service, TransLink rescheduled all maintenance work to overnight on Sunday and Thursday to accommodate the loss of time on Friday and Saturday. The organization reported a significant portion of maintenance work could not be completed within the time.

To ensure the work could be finished, TransLink said they would need to reduce service by an hour every night Sunday through Thursday. It was predicted that for every seven people served by the Friday/Saturday overnight service, 10 people would lose out on the last hour of service from Sunday to Thursday.

A night bus alternative

Around the same time that TransLink decided against a 24-hour train service, they proposed a night bus alternative.

Starting around 1:30 a.m., when the SkyTrain stops running, 10 Metro Vancouver NightBus routes leave from Downtown at the intersection of West Georgia and Granville Streets.

Buses run every 20 to 30 minutes seven days a week servicing Dunbar, Marine Drive, Richmond, YVR, Surrey, Lynn Valley, Burnaby, and Coquitlam.

Between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. transit users can also request to get off anywhere between two regular bus stops if they feel safer that way, just let the bus operator know where you’d like to stop with at least one stop’s notice.

With files from the Vancouver Courier and Elana Shepert, V.I.A.