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Pandemic derailed West Coast Express ridership

Pitt Meadows mayor says more people working from home a factor
Ridership on the West Coast Express has been slow to recover after the COVID-19 pandemic. (Special to The News)

Ridership on the West Coast Express commuter train is not recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic as quickly as other modes of transportation provided by TransLink.

The transit authority released ridership data on May 25, showing bus use has bounced back to 62 per cent of its pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2021. The West Coast Express, however, lagged far behind at just 26 per cent.

The Transit Performance Review for 2021 addresses the issue, noting all other forms of transit had recovered to approximately 60 per cent in the fall of 2021, and speculating the West Coast Express commuters are still not back to the office.

“This services is oriented toward commuters to the Central Business District of Vancouver – many of whom were likely still working from home,” said the report.

READ ALSO: TransLink says ridership recovery outpacing other North American systems

Mayor Bill Dingwall of Pitt Meadows accepts that as part of the explanation.

”A lot of companies have allowed their employees to work from home – even after the pandemic,” he said. “It’s a paradigm shift.”

But he said the Translink Mayor’s Council still sees value in the West Coast Express, and he believes it will regain ridership as growth continues in the communities it serves.

“I’m not worried at this stage,” said Dingwall. “It’s a form of transportation, and we can’t put everyone in cars.”

He noted TransLink has scaled back the service, in order to reduce costs.

In fall of 2021, due to the lower demand for the service, the West Coast Express operated four round-trips with 18 cars in each direction. Before the pandemic, TransLink had been running five round trip swith 41 cars.

The performance review also notes that this service provides trips in one direction – to downtown Vancouver in the morning, and away from the downtown to Mission for the afternoon commute, on weekdays only. Other transit modes offer more flexibility.

RapidBus service from Maple Ridge’s Haney Place Mall to Coquitlam Station has also likely impacted the service, Dingwall said. The new R3 Lougheed Highway RapidBus was launched in January 2020, generating new ridership.

Because of the new service, the Maple Ridge/Pitt Meadows region had 74 per cent ridership recovery overall in fall of 2021, compared with 59 per cent system-wide.

The Southeast sub-region (Surrey, Langley Township, Langley City, White Rock, and North Delta) was the leader in ridership recovery at 75 per cent.

Dingwall said estimates put overall ridership recovery across TransLink at 70 per cent now, and there is optimism this could grow to 80 per cent by the end of 2022.

System-wide ridership recovery has exceeded the average recovery rate across large Canadian and American transit agencies, according to TransLink.

READ ALSO: TransLink aims to expand rapid bus service, active transport in next 10 years

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Neil Corbett

About the Author: Neil Corbett

Neil Corbett has been a journalist for more than 30 years, the past decade with the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows News.
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