Surrey Leader – Bus-boosting study stacked deck against Valley trains: critic

Bus-boosting study stacked deck against Valley trains: critic

Critics with Rail For The Valley say the province’s transit review concentrated on heavy rail service like the West Coast Express, rather than accurately costing out a modern light rail option.

By Jeff Nagel – BC Local News

Published: January 10, 2011 12:00 PM

Updated: January 10, 2011 1:00 PM

Advocates of a modern light rail line connecting the Fraser Valley from Surrey to Chilliwack say the province’s new study recommending expanded bus service never gave trains an honest chance.

Rail For The Valley founder Jon Buker accuses the transportation ministry-led study of “extreme bias” by using “grossly inflated” cost estimates to undermine the case for a light rail service running on the old Interurban corridor.

He said the study is what he expected A?ai??i??ai???Ai??Ai??one “designed simply to discredit light rail and push Victoria’s agenda for rapid bus implementation for the Fraser Valley.”

The Strategic Review of Transit in the Fraser Valley estimated it would cost $112 million a year to launch a 98-kilometre heavy rail commuter line A?ai??i??ai???Ai??Ai??akin to the West Coast Express A?ai??i??ai??? from Surrey to Chilliwack or $176 million annually for a light rail line that could serve more passengers.

It said the region instead needs a $90-million-a-year investment in local and regional buses that would promise frequent service every 15 minutes or less over a wide area and include express buses to haul people longer distances.

That would be a big jump from the $11 million a year currently spent on transit service in the Fraser Valley Regional District.

Buker said a key flaw in the study is it based all its rail costs on a West Coast Express-type heavy rail service, which requires significant double-tracking and other rail infrastructure upgrades, particularly in Surrey.

Consultants extrapolated the higher costs in that area throughout the route, he said, and then also used them in preparing the estimates for light rail, which wouldn’t require nearly as much upgrading.

The review found track upgrading costs would add up to $18.6 million per kilometre.

A study commissioned last year by Rail For The Valley and an earlier consultant’s report for the City of Surrey had both found a light rail service could be launched for much less A?ai??i??ai??? $5 to $6 million per kilometre A?ai??i??ai???Ai??Ai??on the existing tracks that once carried Interurban trams until the 1950s.

“A far more affordable system achieving the same basic level of service can be built,” he said.

Buker also contends the provincial study low-balled the number of passengers who would take trains and predicted three times as many people would use the proposed enhanced bus transit system.

“If the Fraser Valley can support hourly bus service, or even half-hourly 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,” he said.

Better bus service is a good idea, Buker said, but he noted just one per cent of Valley residents now take buses and improving ridership will require a “light rail backbone” across the region.

Critics of heavier West Coast Express-type trains say they tend to mainly serve commuters going to downtown Vancouver and fail to provide all-day regular service connecting local centres.

That’s an important distinction because 80 per cent of all Valley trips are by residents travelling in their own community, not making long commutes across the Lower Mainland.

Another key to usability is the number of stations on a rail line.

The province’s study analyzing the Interurban corridor assumed nine stations A?ai??i??ai???Ai??Ai??four in Surrey, three in Langley and just one each in Abbotsford and Chilliwack. Making more stops than that would increase trip times and deter passengers, consultants said.

Any improved transit study will need to be funded, it said, suggesting a local gas tax in the Fraser Valley Regional District as one option. Each cent of gas tax levied in the FVRD would generate $4.1 million per year, it said.

Metro Vancouverites pay 12 cents per litre to TransLink as well as a much higher level of property tax.

The FVRD population is projected to climb 70 per cent to more than 450,000 over the next two decades.

The report aims to quadruple Valley transit use from one to 4.1 per cent of trips by 2040.

via Surrey Leader – Bus-boosting study stacked deck against Valley trains: critic.

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