- The Canadian (VIA)
Passenger rail first came to Vancouver in 1887 along the Canadian Pacific line. Since then, it has become the Western terminus of many Canadian routes, including the luxurious Canadian line, whose other terminus is in Toronto. The city, located on the British Columbia seaboard, was chosen by the Canadian Pacific Railway to be the western end of its transcontinental line. The company, like many railroads of its day, recognized the importance of operating its own real estate in order to simplify passenger services and bring in additional revenue. Railway hotels were common practice in the early days of passenger cars, and Vancouver got not just a hotel built by Canadian Pacific but an adjoining opera house as well.
The development of VIA rail was actually inspired by the creation of Amtrak. Six years after the US federal government took over nationwide passenger rail services, the Canadian government realized that its passenger rail network was deteriorating rapidly. All passenger routes were taken over, and VIA opened in 1977. By 1978, its first transcontinental line, the Super Continental, opened from Montreal to Vancouver.
Around this same time, Vancouver began to look in earnest at consolidating urban transit. BC Transit was created in 1979 in order to bring transit projects into their own distinct agency. From this period until 1999, the agency controlled the bus system as well as Vancouver’s first light-rail project, the SkyTrain, which continues service today as the Expo line. Since then, three new services have been added to the SkyTrain: the Canada Line, Millennium Line and Evergreen Extension.
In contrast to Vancouver’s ongoing housing affordability crisis, the city’s TransLink transit agency makes Vancouver the best city for public transportation in Canada. Recently TransLink’s Board of Directors and the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation in the Vancouver metro area approved a plan that would invest $5.76 billion (CAD) in rail infrastructure and $528 million (CAD) in bus infrastructure.
Historically, TransLink has dealt with a lot of infighting over how to raise revenue for its expanding services. This is partly because of its complicated leadership system, where a council of mayors and a board of directors all work together to come up with a regional transportation plan. TransLink was initially handicapped early on in the process when local politicians refused to institute a vehicle tax. TransLink’s recently-announced Phase III plan will include as funding sources an increase in fuel taxes and a development tax on new housing built.