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End of the Olympic Line means an opportunity lost

Yesterday, Vancouver’s modern streetcar made its final journey alongFalse Creek. With the conclusion of the Paralympics, the so-calledOlympic Line is no more.

Yesterday, Vancouver’s modern streetcar made its final journey along False Creek. With the conclusion of the Paralympics, the so-called Olympic Line is no more — and that means the streetcar aspirations for this city are, for the time being, over. The two Bombardier trams operating on the new tracks are being shipped back to Belgium.


It’s too bad, because the service had been a smashing transit success during the Olympic and Paralympic Games — moving hundreds of thousands between the Olympic Village Canada Line station and Granville Island. City hall reported that it was even busier than well-funded modern streetcar networks in Seattle and Portland.


The passenger volumes translated into huge crowds at the shops, restaurants and Olympic pavilions on Granville Island. It would be nice to see that kind of robust economic activity in the area all the time.


As Metro reported last week, at least one Vancouver city councillor, Suzanne Anton, said the city should do “everything in its power” to keep the streetcar service going. “There is pretty much a universal desire to keep it,” she said. And she has wisely noted that its presence adds significant value to the financially-troubled athletes village.


Perhaps the streetcar could help the city move more condos and recoup its real estate investment?


But this goes beyond municipal finances. It is about bolstering options for commuters across the region. Couldn’t TransLink come up with the $6 million to $8 million needed to buy the sleek Bombardier vehicles — and give this region a first-class transit legacy?


Sadly, as long as TransLink refuses to give its blessings, there is no chance senior levels of government will step up either. No wonder Stephen Harper had nothing for the project when he announced $33 million earlier this month for transportation projects in B.C. — most of which was devoted to highways and bridges.


In late February, during the peak of the Vancouver Olympics experience, Mayor Gregor Robertson said the city’s “next task is to encourage people to stay out of their cars when the Games end and continue to choose better ways of getting around.”


It was a nice thought.


But as the Olympics transport plan — including the streetcar, the third Seabus, and the ramped up SkyTrain service — dissolves before our eyes, many will have no choice but to say goodbye to transit and hello again to their own vehicles.

– Derek Moscato is a writer with a focus on urban issues, transportation, architecture and economics; dmoscato@yahoo.com.