After two months, Vancouver's streetcar experiment of running cars between the Canada Line's Olympic Village station and Granville Island ended yesterday with Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson saying he has no ideas on a permanent solution for the route.
"I am open minded but we have to be pragmatic here and work with our transportation partners," Mr. Robertson said on the day the last of the Bombardier Transportation cars, borrowed from Belgium, travelled a 1.8-kilometre route used by upward of 500,000 passengers. Mr. Robertson said the best bet for the return of streetcars could be as part of a transit system running along Broadway, possibly built some time after the Evergreen Line is running in 2014. "It will take years to bring back," said Mr. Robertson, noting his bottom line on the issue is to wait for TransLink and the province to join the city in exploring solutions.
The city spent $8.5-million to upgrade the tracks for a long-gone system used recently for the Bombardier-operated free rides. Cars ran every six to 10 minutes. The system appears to have became a welcome convenience for commuters looking for easier ways than the bus to get to Granville Island.
Cameron Picyk, waiting for a streetcar yesterday, said the experiment has made it much easier to get to his job at a Granville Island restaurant and that city hall should keep it. "They talk about making trains to UBC and all these crazy plans whereas the tracks are laid and we have cars that work so when you look at value for money, it's a no-brainer for me."
Suzanne Anton, the lone Non-Partisan Association member of council, urged the mayor to take the lead on making the line permanent, suggesting he look at a P3 public-private measure to cover the expected $90-million in capital costs and not wait for support from the province and TransLink, the regional transit authority.
"To say we have to wait for TransLink and the province is a more passive approach than I would take."
City staff have suggested it would cost $90-million in capital costs to buy cars, build a works yard and take other measures to make the streetcar permanent, she said.
"I would be going out actively looking for partners. I'd look for P3 partners. I would be actively pressing TransLink. I would be actively pressing the province, but TransLink has got a lot of priorities right now so I do believe it's really up to the city to figure out how to make this happen."
But Mr. Robertson said there will be no outside-the-box solutions to finding money to continue the streetcar when TransLink and the province are scrambling to find $400-million to fully cover the budget for the Evergreen Line.
"The first priority is to work with TransLink on the next step, and if we discover a miraculous, standalone funding model, I am certainly open minded to it, but I think it may be naive to assume there's a profitable venture with a short-run streetcar," he said.
Premier Gordon Campbell was non-committal yesterday about provincial support.
"I know that the Minister of Transportation is looking at possibilities for this as a complement to the existing transit system," he said. "I hope that we can find some solutions that might work in the long term."
The mayor acknowledged the streetcar system provided a quicker route to Granville Island.
"There's been a number of hot spots around the city that would be better served by good transit. Granville Island is right up there."
Cliff Stefanuk, a 33-year-old software sales representative, said the "very efficient, very clean, very fast" line was terrific, but that maybe Vancouver will have to wait its turn for additional transit spending.
"We just had a huge benefit with the Canada Line coming in. Some other regions in the area need some benefits from urban transit so if they need the money, I am fine with it going to them.