Vanity Project Reality Check – The SFU Gondola

The realities of a gondola going to SFU are beginning to hit home.

Simple fact is, there is no need for a gondola to SFU and the project is a “quid pro quo” for Burnaby’s support for Vancouver’s subway project and the now former mayor of Surrey’s flip flop from light rail to MALM. It is also a reward to Simon Fraser university for their continued support endorsing TransLink’s questionable projects.

Contrary to the hype and hoopla, the SFU gondola will cost in excess of $300 million and will be a maintenance hog.

But, what does cost mean when the gondola will make such a nice backdrop for photo-ops and ten second sound bytes for the evening news, with the expected provincial election next year.

Hopefully the “hacksaw terrorist” doesn’t live near!

The gondola will not take cars off the road and will reduce on-pavement transit services in the region.

The last sentence in this article; “The next step for this project is the business case, which is currently under development.“, is more farce than anything else.

In BC business cases are politcal documents masquerading as technical one.


Proposed SFU gondola popular, but not among some who’d live under it

Getting up and down to Simon Fraser University can be a real slog, and the proposed Burnaby Mountain gondola is being sold in some quarters as a fun solution to the traffic and transit challenges in that area.

But with public engagement underway, some people who live in the city’s Forest Grove neighbourhood are pushing back.

Jim Bowen is worried about a gondola going over his home — he’s concerned about the potential of tree removal and what it could mean for the value of his property.

He’s part of a group called Stop SFU Gondola and says the group has more than 150 members.

“The emotional toll it can take on you — after 14 years of having this literally hanging over your head, with these people pushing it through,” Bowen said, referencing earlier proposals for a gondola over the years.

“The gondola would go directly over our houses. Not beside them. Not close to them. Over them.”

In recent weeks, TransLink has held a series of meetings with people in Forest Grove and UniverCity — the neighbourhood on top of Burnaby Mountain beside SFU.

“That meeting — there were 35 of us … I admit to being opinionated, it didn’t go that well for them,” Bowen said, referencing a public engagement meeting on November 23. “They were a little bit surprised by things, and how hostile we were.”

TransLink says the feedback provided by people at those meetings will be included in what it calls an “engagement summary.”

In a statement to CityNews, it notes the project is not currently funded, but is included in TransLink’s ten-year Access for Everyone plan.

“This is the third engagement that’s been conducted for the Burnaby Mountain Gondola project and we’ve found that the project has broad support from the region — with more than 83% of respondents supportive or very supportive of the gondola in the first two rounds of engagement,” a TransLink spokesperson wrote when requested for comment on this story. “The engagements included direct consultation with residents of Forest Grove and UniverCity and all engagement results will reflect their unique interests in the project.”

The proposed route would see the gondola’s lower terminal placed beside the Production Way-University SkyTrain Station, running up to the vicinity of the SFU Transit Exchange.

Getting up the mountain on buses now can be highly unpredictable, with people often complaining about full buses passing them by.

If built, the gondola would get people up to the top in about seven minutes, in contrast to the 15 to 45-minute trip TransLink suggests people usually endure. In terms of capacity, the gondola could transport as many as 3,000 people per hour.

The next step for this project is the business case, which is currently under development.


6 Responses to “Vanity Project Reality Check – The SFU Gondola”
  1. fg says:

    Where did you get the $300 million from? Other websites said it will cost $210 million and $5.6 million annual operating cost. Agree it is a bit of a waste as there is already busses doing the trip in 15 mins. London transport have a gondola too over the Thames river. There is lots of Gondola all over BC that are privately owned. Grouse mountain is building it’s third one. If SFU want this then they should pay for it.

    This why the expo line was extended to production way station from downtown Vancouver.

    Zwei replies: The figure comes from an expert I who advises me. The $210 estimate is pre-Covid and pre inflation. The realistic number is $300K plus. Also as this will be a public transportation service it must adhere to Transport Canada’s rules, unlike resort systems, which will require a higher degree of operation, which translates to higher costs. The $5.6 annual operating costs are based on resort operation and not public transit operation and is a very myopic, at best.

    As the operation is solely to convey students to UBC, it will be heavily subsidized because the $1 a day U-Pass will be so apportioned between transit modes that the actual fare paid will be pennies.

    The simple fact is, the public are being grifted.

    I do agree with you that SFU should fund and maintain the system.

  2. Haveacow says:

    It’s like the flying car, great until you find out that the guy who lives down the street, whom should not be driving at all, just bought his first flying car and will be flying that vehicle, over my house!

    These devices are terribly expensive to maintain, just ask anyone who operates a ski resort. I can’t believe that the same $300 Million plus, the gondola will cost couldn’t be applied to a massive, in-area road improvement project with bus lanes and other right of way improvements. I guess we will all see.

  3. legoman0320 says:

    [++++++++] Doppelmayr 3S gondola
    [+ *]
    [+ ++++* *) 7 Standing *
    [+ * ) 28 Seat +
    [+ ++++* *) Door )
    {+ *]
    [++++++++] Diagram 3S-Cabin ATRIA Custom Cabin

    3S ropeway facts & figures
    – Speed up to 8.5 m/s-
    – Transport capacity up to 5,500 passengers per hour and direction
    – Cabin capacity up to 35 passengers
    – Utmost availability
    – Top comfort and safety
    – Integrated recovery concept

    SFU Gondola
    – Speed up to 8.5 m/s*
    – 3,000 passengers per hour and direction
    – Cabin 35 passengers-
    – S-Cabin ATRIA Custom Cabin

    Gondola process
    – Public engagement is finished.
    – Conceptual design is finished.
    – Engineering is and design is finished.
    – Next step is the business case (here)
    – Once the business case has done, then they can Go after funding.
    – Construction
    – Testing
    – Opening of gondola.

    2018 all day service and peak hour bus service SFU 145 and 144 Annual operating cost $8 Million vs $5.6 Million annual operations for the gondola.
    7 min for taking the gondola or 15 min on bus. 8 minute savings plus the more frequent gondolas will cut down on people waiting then bus.

    Most of the riders will have a seated ride going up-and-down the gondola.

    Translink and SFU Known about upgrading or improving the service for the growing capacity and reliability during the winter months. And this is the current solution as a gondola.

    Expansion of the sky train and Future gondola going to SFU is Shorten the travel time and increase reliability. Frequency is freedom.

    Another in-house operations company under Translink.

    Zwei replies: Our TransLink man is at it again. The shorten travel time excuse is merely that, an excuse. Aerial Tramways are an expensive piece of kit, that will be heavily subsidized in operation and simply this is a quid pro quo vanity project for Burnaby and a payoff to SFU for all their support for SkyTrain.

    The money will come from other parts of the transit system and the other issue is of course Transport Canada as i have been told that it aerial tramway must be operated under there regimen.

    There is no business case for the Gondola because it will be a money looser, but when there are photo-ops and 10 second sound bites to be had at election time, money is no problem.

    Sadly, it is how our transit system is operated and why it has been a failure in attracting ridership.

  4. legoman0320 says:

    Annually, it will be cheaper than the current post services that were provided to the campus. Current bus service is on adequate for the increasing demand to the campus. SFU Expansion plans. University City A few more towers Design stage. It’s going to be as reliable as a seabus. Once the gondolas installed then buses that use increasing the frequency in the lower mainland.

    Zwei replies: That is complete wishful thinking.

  5. Haveacow says:

    Looking back on the cost estimates I saw for the Gondola. I predict a final cost range of $296.1 Million to $315.05 Million. With the operating costs inflating to $7.9 Million per year to $8.4 Million per year. The last estimate was for 2018.

    At the subsidy level of the standard University student transit pass, which is about $1 a day of revenue per student. You are going to need 25,320 students per business day and at the least 1 day per weekend at the low end of the gondola’s daily cost range to cover its per day costs. According to the University itself, just over 25,000 students per day take transit to the SFU campus per day.

    So unless ridership participation is around 100% of all transit using students for the Gondola, someone is going to have to subsidize the gondola’ s operations. Remember, the rapid transit portion of the transit system (which the Gondola is supposed to be part of) is supposed to be profitable, so it can help support as much as possible, the non-profitable surface transit system.

    Zwei replies: And to remember that the UPass must be apportioned, each time the student takes a bus, metro Sea Bus and/or the gondola. A student taking a bus to the metro and then to the gondola and return means the $1 fare is apportioned 6 times (with about 35 cents for a return trip on the gondola). The last time I was told, the UPass becomes non viable at over 35% usage as the subsidy rises dramatically.

    Like the Broadway subway, used on a route heavily used by U-Pass holding students also means huge subsidies for the subway. Any way you look at it the SFU gondola will be heavily subsidized.

  6. Let’s begin with the claim that it will be 3,000 pphpd (pphpd) in gondolas carrying 35 passengers:

    3,000 = 35 x 85.7 gondolas per hour. Or 87.5 gondolas per hour = 1.43 gondolas per minute or a gondola coming 42 seconds…. It turns out the headways are even tighter!

    • A little surfing demonstrated that the gondolas ‘bunch up’ at the station, alighting passengers at the in-bound end of the station U-turn, before loading passengers at the out-bound end the U-turn.

    • The gondola operates like a cable car—it latches on to a moving steel cable. Next time you are in San Francisco ride one of the cable cars and sit (or stand) next to the ‘driver’. They are using a lever-like device to ‘clamp’ onto a moving cable under the street for propulsion, and ‘letting it go’ at the cable car stations to make the vehicle stop.

    • Not sure how ‘slowing down at the station’ is handled by gondolas.

    • One issue arises: the gondola never stops, making it impractical (impossible?) for wheelchair access.

    • I found a tri-cable ACC (gondola) with a operating speed of 31 kph; 38 passengers; and 8,000 pphpd.

    25,000 students per day you say? IF 67% of that total are travelling at peak, it would take 2 hours to get them up there. Compare to other pphpd’s (headways in brackets):

    44,000—4-car Streetcar|LRT (1.5 min; trains can be longer if needed)
    26,880—5-car Skytrain Mark V (1.5 min; maximum length of train)

    6,000—BRT bi-articulated (2 min)
    2,400—99 B-Line (3 min)
    924—Trolleys (5 min headways)

    1,600—2 city traffic lanes

    Where Gondolas would represent a savings would be travelling over mountainous terrain, spanning ravines, etc. Saves on the cost of building bridges. However, we already have a 4-lane highway going up to SFU.

    In that case, Gondolas are eye-candy as remarked by others.

    I have a BA from SFU that I got while living in Coquitlam. It was a 45 minute ride to school. First, a local bus to the Lougheed Mall, then a specially outfitted bus to climb the SFU hill. I read and did homework on the bus…

    Provide free wi-fi and free device charging, and I can’t see any student complaining they are spending too much time riding the bus.

    Rubber tires work better than steel wheels on steep inclines, so my thought for SFU would be to upgrade the bus system to BRT. Then, run the BRT on Hastings to Downtown; and on the Lougheed Highway to the Lougheed Mall. I’d love to send one down and around on the Barnet to Port Moody and points East, but I can’t imagine there is enough ridership. Best connect to the WCE or other transit upgrade. North shore students would transfer to Hastings service as they do today.

    At some time in the future, when more capacity is needed, we could operate a rubber-wheel Streetcar|LRT up the mountain.

    Winter road conditions? My hunch—just a guess—is that it’s cheaper to run plows and de-ice the roadway than maintain the gondolas. Even at SFU, there are NOT that many snowy days.

    The real reason SFU was promised a Gondola was to compensate for UBC getting a subway.

    Give UBC Streetcar|LRT instead… Then, upgrade SFU to rubber tire Streetcar|LRT when the numbers warrant… but get the students wifi and free charging ASAP.

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