For many Metro Vancouver late night commuters, the implementation of a 24/7 or 24/2 (running 24 hours on Friday and Saturdays) SkyTrain service would be a true game changer. The days of waiting anxiously for the NightBus in the pouring rain or spending a day’s salary on a cab from downtown Vancouver to your home would be a thing of the past. The lack of options for late-night return trips for those living in the Greater Vancouver area has been an issue that TransLink has been working long and hard to address…since 2018.

Most SkyTrain and bus services end at approximately 1 a.m.—after that you're reliant upon 10-night buses that run from 1 a.m. to 3 or 5 a.m. These buses typically start at the Granville Entertainment District area and depart to locations like UBC, Cambie and Surrey Central Station. Even with the existing NightBus lines, the current service still fails to accommodate those living in Delta, Port Coquitlam, Maple Ridge as well as certain areas in Richmond, Surrey and Langley. 

In 2018, TransLink hired independent consultants (SNC-Lavalin and Steer Davies Gleave) to study the possibility of extending the Friday/Saturday SkyTrain service in Metro Vancouver. This 340-page study was released to the public this summer and features a comprehensive review of the existing late-night services and alternate modes of transportation, as well as a comparative summary of how our late-night ridership and transit systems rack up to other transit agencies around the globe.

The study acknowledged that certain customers and stakeholders have stated that the current late night services are not meeting their needs. TransLink asserted that they’ve taken these criticisms to heart and have developed options for improving late-night bus services. 

There is a lot to unpack in this detailed service review, so that’s why we created a SparkNotes version highlighting some of the key takeaways and findings. Here is what we learned.

Late-night transit demand is significantly higher on Friday and Saturday nights than any other night of the week

TransLink asserts that NightBus lines experience an average of 1,900 late-night boardings from Sunday to Thursday, (late-night ridership is measured from 11:50 p.m. to 5 a.m.) and 2,600 boardings on Friday and Saturday nights. Meanwhile, the SkyTrain experiences an average of 3,600 late night boardings from Sunday to Thursday, while accumulating an estimated 9,500 on Friday and Saturday nights. But the demand on all transit modes is significantly lower at night than the day (late night demand on Friday and Saturday nights accounts for only 1.4 percent of the daily ridership).

Metro Vancouver’s transit operating hours are consistent with North American peers

After analyzing 17 cities’ transit systems, the study found that Vancouver’s SkyTrain operating hours are consistent with peers. Seven global cities have currently or previously operated a 24/7 or 24/2 system (for instance, New York City currently operates a 24/7 subway and London’s tube system is 24/2). Vancouver’s service was compared directly to Canadian cities, Toronto, Montréal, as well as West Coast cities Portland and Seattle, which have comparable populations to Vancouver’s. The study found that none of these four cities run a 24/7 or 24/2 Subway or Train line, with Portland being the only one that doesn’t run a NightBus service.

A 24-hour a day, seven-day a week service isn’t seen as feasible

A 24/7 service was ruled out due to high costs, inability to make up maintenance hours and because the Expo and Millennium tracks weren’t initially designed to operate over an extended period of time.

24/2 services on the Expo and Millennium Lines are also unlikely

The study found that significant maintenance and capital would be needed to operate a 24/2 service on the Expo and Millennium lines. A 24/2 service would result in the cancellation of the last hour of the Sunday to Thursday service due to the loss of nine maintenance hours that typically occur on Friday and Saturday nights. If the last hour of service were cancelled through Sunday to Thursday, there'd be an estimated net loss of 337,000 riders.

Expect increases in NightBus services

TransLink plans to implement a 58 percent increase between 2019 and 2020 in NightBus services (includes increases in frequency, hours of service and route extensions). For example, in September, the N17 Night Bus to UBC will be extended to run through the night until the start of regular service. Overall, service is being increased on nine NightBus routes by 2020.

A late-night Station-to-Station Bus is being considered as a potential option

After considering numerous late-night bus options, TransLink concluded that the Station-to-Station Bus plan was the most feasible and top performing alternative. There would potentially be six station-to-station late-night lines that run similar routes to the existing SkyTrain lines, but these buses would stop near and not at existing stations. TransLink has yet to receive funding for this option and is gauging certain stakeholder's interest in this proposed alternative.

Overall, more people are using transit

The study reports that there was a system-wide boarding increase of around 7 percent (record 437.4 million passengers in 2018). Bus boardings increased by 8 percent, and SkyTrain boardings by 5.7 percent.