TransLink is a victim of its own success: increases in ridership mean it faces big struggles to keep up with demand.

Soaring ridership puts TransLink under pressure

Service can't expand to keep pace without more cash

TransLink is on track for a record year of transit ridership, surpassing even the number of passengers carried in 2010, when the region hosted the Winter Olympics.

But the high usage numbers are being tempered with a caution that the transportation authority is near the limit of what it can offer riders and needs a big and controversial package of upgrades if it’s to expand service and keep pace with rising demand.

The 114.4 million transit trips in the first six months of the year are four per cent more than in 2010. And if the April to June months are compared – to exclude the Olympic surge – ridership was up 13 per cent in the second quarter.

Officials warn the gains are not sustainable if the public and regional politicians refuse to accept some combination of higher taxes and fees to finance expansion.

“I’m very concerned that we’re seeing this substantial rise in demand by more people for more transit at a time when TransLink has no ability to meaningfully increase capacity,” TransLink CEO Ian Jarvis said.

Spokesman Ken Hardie said TransLink has been “optimizing” bus service by selectively trimming service on routes or at times where buses are underused and adding it where buses are crowded or more passengers can be attracted.

That will continue to deliver minor efficiency gains, he said.

“But the real large service increases are just not going to happen,” Hardie said. “We will not have the capacity to do that.”

Area mayors are being asked to approve a $70-million-a-year increase in revenue – through a two-cent gas tax hike and other yet-to-be-determined mechanisms.

That would fund the $700-million Moving Forward package of proposed upgrades over 10 years, including TransLink’s $400-million contribution to the Evergreen Line plus about $300 million in other service increases.

The package would increase SeaBus sailings, upgrade SkyTrain stations and provide more money for road work and cycling infrastructure.

Conventional bus service hours would rise seven per cent by 2014 to combat overcrowding and pass-ups and keep up with increasing demand through the expanded U-Pass system. Half of the extra service hours would be earmarked for the South of the Fraser area.

New routes would include a B-Line express bus run connecting Surrey Central, Guildford and White Rock via King George Boulevard as well as a promised Langley-White Rock route.

Also to be funded is the Highway 1 Bus Rapid Transit service from Langley to Lougheed Station via the new Port Mann Bridge.

A vehicle levy, road pricing or a second carbon tax are among the potential options to provide the revenue – in addition to the planned two-cent gas tax increase.

They would be the subject to ongoing negotiations between mayors and the provincial government over the next year.

Public consultations on the plan are set for Sept. 7 in North Vancouver, Sept. 8 in Burnaby, Sept. 14 in Surrey and Sept. 15 in Coquitlam. For details see www.translink.ca.