BCLocalNews.com – Study calls for major transit boost

Study calls for major transit boost

The long-awaited Fraser Valley Transit study quietly appeared online Thursday, with a clear focus on local transit improvements.

The study by the province and FVRD with partners BC Transit and TransLink, looked at local, regional and inter-regional transit needs of Fraser Valley communities from Abbotsford to Hope.

Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz was relieved the $400,000 transit report was finally released so the community can move forward.

A?ai??i??Ai??It gives us a long range vision for local transit in each Fraser Valley community, as well as a vision for regional service.

A?ai??i??Ai??The main part that jumped out for me was the crucial need for new funding sources to be found,A?ai??i??A? she said.

The study pointed out Chilliwack spends $9 annually per capita on transit through property taxes, which is among the lowest in B.C., compared to other mid-sized communities.

Kamloops spends $26 per capita, while Victoria spends $40, as examples.

A?ai??i??Ai??ItA?ai??i??ai???s tough right now,A?ai??i??A? said Gaetz. A?ai??i??Ai??WeA?ai??i??ai???re under pressure to keep taxes low, and we know transit is highly subsidized so we have to look if a share of costs can be borne in other areas. ItA?ai??i??ai???s about finding a new funding mechanism.A?ai??i??A?

More than tripling local bus service is called for under the studyA?ai??i??ai???s vision, going from the current total of 40 buses to 135 by 2040, and the annual costs would then jump from about $10 million to $80 million, contingent on new revenue sources being found.

ThatA?ai??i??ai???s a 600 per cent projected increase in local bus services for Chilliwack according to the study, and about 450 per cent for Abbotsford to support A?ai??i??Ai??primary travel marketsA?ai??i??A? in the valley.

Transit advocate Jennifer Bigham, who called herself the Chill-activist, was impressed by the studyA?ai??i??ai???s recommendations for major increases to local bus service across the valley.

A?ai??i??Ai??ItA?ai??i??ai???s long overdue. My initial reaction is that itA?ai??i??ai???s going to be good for us,A?ai??i??A? she said.

A new transit governance structure A?ai??i??Ai??is exactly what we needA?ai??i??A? to amalgamate services from neighbouring communities, Bigham said.

A?ai??i??Ai??The fact that theyA?ai??i??ai???re ready to do anything is good, but itA?ai??i??ai???s going to take a lot just to catch up.A?ai??i??A?

Finding new funding sources and a new structure is key, agreed Gaetz.

A?ai??i??Ai??No matter what kind of transit service we choose, it underscores that the current model is unsustainable,A?ai??i??A? said the mayor. A?ai??i??Ai??So weA?ai??i??ai???re looking forward to working with BC Transit in the new year to figure out the best options for Chilliwack.A?ai??i??A?

A new governance model, something akin to a Trans Link, might be a good place to start, said Gaetz.

But hands-down the biggest priority for all valley communities is A?ai??i??Ai??growing local ridership,A?ai??i??A? especially since most riders donA?ai??i??ai???t go beyond the city borders, said the mayor.

A?ai??i??Ai??What the study pointed out was the need to expand our local ridership, to make it grow from one per cent to four per centA?ai??i??A? over the next 20 years, said Gaetz.

A?ai??i??Ai??There are some who have said we could do that by putting in an inter-urban rail line from Chilliwack to Vancouver, but what the report indicates is that itA?ai??i??ai???s highly desirable, but cost prohibitive.A?ai??i??A?

The study estimated the rail option would cost $70 million.

So although Gaetz said she agrees with preserving the rail line for future service potential, itA?ai??i??ai???s A?ai??i??Ai??too expensiveA?ai??i??A? right now.

The rationale for rail isnA?ai??i??ai???t supported by the numbers since 80 per cent of trips in the Fraser Valley begin and end in that community.

A?ai??i??Ai??And for the City of Chilliwack it was even more dramatic, with only 10 per cent of daily riders leaving Chilliwack for other communities.A?ai??i??A?

But Rail for the Valley spokesman John Vissers disputes the expensive price tag for rail.

A?ai??i??Ai??I get a sense that they missed the obvious and that is that we have a system available to us at little real cost that would connect communities. Connectivity is absolutely essential,A?ai??i??A? he said.

To continue to ignore rail as a transportation option is actually 20th century thinking, he said.

The problem with the transit vision contained in the study is that it doesnA?ai??i??ai???t offer true sustainability, despite its lofty goals.

A?ai??i??Ai??It doesnA?ai??i??ai???t recognize sustainable growth and how growth will be shaped by affordable and accessible transit,A?ai??i??A? said Vissers.

A?ai??i??Ai??Sprawl canA?ai??i??ai???t be served by buses or trains, theyA?ai??i??ai???re too low density. If we build attractive transportation options it will attract more sustainable growth. So weA?ai??i??ai???re doing things backward by building communities and then trying to serve them with transportation.A?ai??i??A?

The just released study by Urban Systems, Strategic Review of Transit in the Fraser Valley, compared different scenarios for local, and inter-regional transit, as well as urban rail and expanded West Coast Express options in a 20- to 25-year framework.

The recommendations lean toward A?ai??i??Ai??optimizing and enhancingA?ai??i??A? local transit in the short term, given that the vast majority of transit trips start and end in the same community.

Within Chilliwack a A?ai??i??Ai??rapid busA?ai??i??A? service would cover the Yale/Vedder corridor with interconnected frequent transit corridors, conventional services and connections with community transit services. It also envisions an express coach bus for inter-regional travel.

Rail did not cut it.

A?ai??i??Ai??Commuter rail may be a long-term option in the future,A?ai??i??A? reads the study summary.

An inter-urban rail service is singled out as A?ai??i??Ai??significantly more than other transit options available.A?ai??i??A?

Either extending the WCE to Abbotsford or creating an inter-urban route A?ai??i??Ai??would require significant investment and both have lower projected ridership than other transit options in the study.A?ai??i??A?

Hence the need to focus on expanding local transit. With population numbers expected to spike in the coming years, the study points out that transit funding and service levels have been A?ai??i??Ai??woefully inadequateA?ai??i??A? in the region.

Gaetz said in order to get ridership up substantially in Chilliwack from the current one per cent up to four per cent, leaves regional transit, such as Chilliwack to Abbotsford of secondary importance to some degree.

A?ai??i??Ai??But having said that, it should not set off alarm bells because regional links are still a priority. So weA?ai??i??ai???ll be looking at that and more in the new year as we continue to analyze the data.A?ai??i??A?

For more on the study, go to www.srtfv.ca or www.th.gov.bc.ca/FraserValleyTransit/

BCLocalNews.com – Study calls for major transit boost.

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