Study goes off the rails

Study goes off the rails


Proponents of the inter-urban rail line from Chilliwack to Surrey are critical of some of the assumptions underlying the provincial government’s Fraser Valley Transit Study (FVTS) released last week.

Based on economic and demographic projections, the long-awaited report concludes that light rail on the old inter-urban line would cost “significantly more than the other transit options available.”

But Dr. John Buker of the Rail for the Valley group said those doing the calculations aren’t telling the whole story.

The FVTS found that the interurban line from Chilliwack to Surrey would have annual costs in 2031 from approximately $110 million to $175 million for operating, vehicle and capital.

“However, the projected 2031 ridership does not grow to the same degree, resulting in a higher system cost of $100 to $110 per ride,” the report said.

“By digging a little under the surface, one discovers shockingly that the report is actually assuming a regional bus service would attract more than triple the number of passengers of an equivalent light rail service,” Buker said in a press release issued Monday. “That’s more than a little hard to believe given that there are few cases where buses attract equal, let alone greater, ridership.”

The report finds that rapid bus service between Chilliwack and Abbotsford would be the more economical alternative, but Buker said the ridership predictions that allow for this conclusion are doubtful.

“There are some nice ideas presented of enhanced local bus service which deserve a closer look, but the hard truth is it is extremely doubtful that ridership will be high enough to sustain these levels of services without a light rail backbone,” Buker said.

“If the Fraser Valley can support hourly, or even half-hourly, regional bus service, it can also support light rail, whose operating costs over the lifetime of the vehicles tend to actually be lower, when all costs are taken into account.”

For Mayor Sharon Gaetz, she is just happy the FVTS has finally been released by the province so the city can begin to work on its “vision.”

“The main thing is it reinforces the need for new funding sources,” she told the Times. “The way we

are doing things is unsustainable.”

Currently, 47 per cent of transit funding comes from the province, 30 per cent comes from fares and the rest from local property taxes.

Given the fact that 87 per cent of Chilliwack transit rides stay in Chilliwack, Gaetz said the focus needs to be on improving local transit.

“Hourly service is not going to cut it,” she said.

One request Gaetz has heard lately is to add bus service to the new Eagle Landing retail development, something that will require new money.

Rail For the Valley said the organization will present a detailed reaction to the FVTS in the New Year.

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