Special event trains cost taxpayers

Sunday morning Sun Run train into Vancouver was half full

Participants heading to Sunday’s Vancouver Sun Run had the option of taking a West Coast Express train, but it came at a cost to Metro Vancouver taxpayers.

The Sunday morning train from Mission to Vancouver was half full, with 522 people on board, while it had capacity for 1,036 riders.

The average cost to run the Sun Run train from Mission to Vancouver is $18,500.

With fares bringing in only $6,400, TransLink had to pay $12,100 for the run.

“We’ve never received any criticism for having the Sun Run train. If anything, we have received thank-yous from people using the service,” said West Coast Express president Fred Cummings.

But he acknowledged it does cost taxpayers.

“Typically, they [special event trains] come at a cost. The revenue is usually insufficient to cover the cost.”

TransLink offers four special event trains throughout the year.

One is for the Honda Celebration of Light finale in early August, while the other two are the Santa trains that take shoppers downtown in December.

“We’ve had fairly good ridership for the Sun Run. It’s a community event, so we support it and we get revenue from it.”

The Celebration of Light finale train costs even more at $20,900.

But fares bring in only $5,500 – for a net cost of $15,400.

Cummings said no other organization has ever approached TransLink to run another special event train.

B.C. Lions football team spokesman Jamie Cartmell said the club hasn’t considered requesting a train to carry fans to watch the Lions in B.C. Place.

That would depend on costs and the number of fans that usually come from the areas served by the train, he said.

During the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, several trains carried people to downtown, with strong ridership.

“Our costs were recovered from that, as well,” Cummings said.

Deciding whether to offer a special event train is made well in advance, added Cummings.

“We take a look at this on an annual basis. It’s all based on ridership, making sure we get sufficient revenue or sponsorship out of running that train.”

While special event trains struggle to get enough ridership to pay costs, revenue made on the five Monday-to-Friday commuter trains to Vancouver pays for about 90 per cent of the operating costs.

There are no plans to extend that service to the weekends, though.

Ridership, or lack of it, is the reason West Coast Express offers no weekend trains into Vancouver for shoppers or sightseers.

That’s been considered in previous years, but the numbers have never been there, said TransLink spokesperson Jennifer Siddon.

“Over the years, we have explored ways to expand our service to include weekends. Unfortunately, we haven’t had the ridership to support weekend West Coast Express operations.”