Canada Line opening draws long lineups

The Canada Line's opening day – with a one-time offer of free rides for the public between downtown Vancouver and the airport – proved to be so popular Monday that at one point lineups to get on the new rapid transit trains were more than two hours long.

The Canada Line's opening day – with a one-time offer of free rides for the public between downtown Vancouver and the airport – proved to be so popular Monday that at one point lineups to get on the new rapid transit trains were more than two hours long.

Fare-free day drew 30,000 passengers during the first three hours, TransLink spokesman Drew Snider said in a news release.

In order to move the lineups faster, Canada Line officials were encouraging customers to get off at the terminal stations Waterfront, YVR and Brighouse and return to the lineup before getting on again to allow more people to get on each train as it came in, Snider said.

Officials had estimated 50,000 would try out the new system in the eight hours it was to be open the first day. Official tallies of how many people did climb aboard have not been released yet.

Despite the long waits, many passengers told CBC News they liked the line's speed, its smooth ride and the cars that are larger than those offered on the Lower Mainland's SkyTrain rapid transit system.

System criticized as 'too small'

But at least one observer said the system is too small to handle demand.

"We paid a Rolls-Royce price for a Volkswagen system," said Stephen Rees, a transportation critic and a B.C. Green Party candidate in the spring provincial election.

"The problem with this system is it can't be expanded easily. The stations are short, there's long sections of single track, and both of those limit the amount of additional capacity you could add in the future," Rees told CBC News Monday.

Premier Gordon Campbell and federal Minister of International Trade Stockwell Day took part in a ceremony at the airport and were among the Canada Line's first riders.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson joined them at the Broadway-City Hall station, and VANOC CEO John Furlong got on the line at the Olympic Village station.

Bikes were not allowed on the train Monday, but will be permitted at all times starting Tuesday when the first train leaves the waterfront station at 4:50 a.m. PT, followed by another every four to six minutes.

The line provides alternating service between Vancouver and Richmond or the Vancouver International Airport in about 25 minutes – making it Canada's only rapid transit link to an airport from a city core.

A single fare for the 19-kilometre route is $3.75. A $2.50 airport surcharge is to be added to the fare sometime in 2010.