Tonight, the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic games will kick off in Vancouver, Canada. More than 6,800 athletes representing 80 countries will compete in a series of events that will reach an audience of three billion television viewers worldwide. Olympic organizers are expecting more than a quarter of a million visitors, staff, and volunteers to descend on the Vancouver region over the next 27 days.
To keep athletes, media representatives, fans, and volunteers moving to various Olympic sites, Vancouver’s plan included a $157 million investment in the city’s transportation network. Olympic transportation demands to and from downtown Vancouver are expected to be at least 30 percent greater than an average weekday – bringing daily transit ridership to almost one million people during the games.
Two major transit investments were made in Vancouver to help improve mobility during the Winter Olympics. The Canada Line – which connects downtown with the Vancouver International Airport – is the largest transit construction project in the history of British Columbia. This $2.2 billion light rail service extends 11.8 miles and has 16 stations. Funded by a public-private partnership, the Canada Line attracted 47 percent of its financing from private equity. The consortium of investors will finance the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of the system for the next 35 years. Once that ends, the public will have the option of operating and maintaining the Canada Line or entering into another contract for those services.
The second investment is Vancouver’s 2010 Streetcar, known as the Olympic Line. Connecting the Olympic Village with Grandville Island, the shopping, culture and arts district, this 1.12-mile streetcar attracted 6,000 riders on opening day. During the games, athletes, visitors and residents will be able to ride the streetcar for free. Currently a 60-day demonstration project, the Olympic Line uses a fleet of low-floor boarding streetcars to provide greater accessibility for all users. The $8.5 million system was paid for by the City of Vancouver, with a $500,000 contribution from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. Pending additional funding, the streetcar could become a permanent fixture in the city’s transit network.
After the torch is blown out and the buzz of the Olympics quiets down, the people of Vancouver will return to their daily routines. The Olympics bring a unique opportunity to make significant investments in a city’s infrastructure and leave a lasting legacy of the Olympic experience for the world’s host. Vancouver’s success with innovative financing tools to help support the funding of a transit line and ability to connect meaningful destinations will leave positive, lasting mark in the city.