Fraser Valley Express bus to SkyTrain Lougheed Station to launch in March 2022

Nov 9 2021, 2:14 am

BC Transit-operated bus routes in the Fraser Valley are currently challenged by a bus driver shortage, and this has resulted in the delay of launching the much-anticipated No. 66 Fraser Valley Express (FVX) extension.

The extension of the FVX bus route from its current westernmost terminus at TransLink’s Carvolth bus exchange in Langley to SkyTrain Lougheed Town Centre Station in Burnaby was approved by the Fraser Valley Regional District in 2020.

The pandemic shifted the scheduled extension launch to January 2022, but this date has now been pushed as well, as BC Transit’s system in the Fraser Valley is “experiencing service challenges due to a shortage of qualified bus operators,” according to a new report to a regional district committee. The system is currently struggling to follow the scheduled frequencies of existing bus services, and has resorted to triaging services, resulting in an increase in passenger complaints on delays and missed buses.

The decision to push the launch date to March 2022 provides BC Transit with more time to resolve its labour issues.

Extending the FVX to Lougheed Town Centre Station eliminates the transfer that passengers would currently need to make to reach SkyTrain from the Carvolth bus exchange. Lougheed Town Centre also provides a more convenient connection to other TransLink bus routes.

fraser valley express

Map of existing public transit connections between Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley. The Fraser Valley Express currently terminates at TransLink’s Carvolth bus exchange in Langley. (Fraser Valley Regional District)

fraser valley express route skytrain lougheed town centre station

Route map of No. 66 Fraser Valley Express bus stops and connections to other bus services starting in March 2022, when it is extended to SkyTrain Lougheed Town Centre Station. Click on the image for an enlarged version. (Fraser Valley Regional District)

Currently, the FVX starting from downtown Chilliwack makes four stops before it reaches the Carvolth bus exchange. There are 17 trips in each direction per weekday from early morning into the late evening and eight trips in each direction per weekend day from mid-morning to mid-evening. Each one-way trip on the existing route is about 70 minutes, but this is subject to traffic and road conditions.

In order to achieve the extension to reach Lougheed Town Centre Station, FVX’s dedicated fleet of buses will grow by four from eight to 12 vehicles.

Since it was launched in 2015, FVX ridership has grown exponentially, rising from 72,000 boardings in its inaugural year to 253,000 in 2019. It has also seen a relatively high pandemic ridership recovery, rising to 60% of its normal volumes in September 2021. Regional planners state this is indicative of the “strong latent demand for this service.”

The regional district is planning for the long-term growth of the FVX, and has analyzed potential ridership growth scenarios. A high-growth scenario could see a tenfold increase to as many as 2.6 million annual boardings in 2040.

Ridership growth on the FVX can be achieved by improving connections to Abbotsford International Airport, improving post-secondary student interest in using BC Transit services, especially students at the University of the Fraser Valley and Trinity Western University, and incorporating optimal bus transit designs on Highway 1.

The provincial government is currently planning two separate projects to widen Highway 1 to a three-lane standard in each direction and upgrade outdated interchanges — a 10 km stretch from 216th Street to 264th Street within Langley, and a 22 km stretch from the 264th Street/Highway 13 interchange to Whatcom Road in Abbotsford. The upgrades to Highway 1 within the Fraser Valley Regional District will be the first major expansion of this segment of the freeway since it was first built in the 1960s.

The first stretch of Highway 1 upgrades within Langley will begin construction in 2022.

“The [FVX’s] high growth scenario provides clear direction as to the type of capacity that an upgraded Highway 1 should accommodate,” reads the report.

“Whether the level of service reaches this level in 2040 or 2050, the infrastructure must be built today to accommodate long-term growth. This scenario will help the BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure finalize its planning and design work around the provision of transit infrastructure on Highway 1.”

It is suggested that long-term upgrades to FVX to meet the growth in demand could be accommodated by switching its standard buses to high-capacity vehicles, such as double-decker buses, which are already used by BC Transit within the Victoria region. But this also depends on expanding BC Transit’s Fraser Valley operations and maintenance facilities, which is already facing a storage capacity challenge for FVX’s approved expansion with four additional buses.

translink transport 2050 interregional services

Transport 2050’s interregional services plan. (TransLink)

TransLink’s recently unveiled draft Transport 2050 plan outlining regional transportation expansion priorities for the next 30 years calls for an emphasis on new interregional express routes, including routes to Metro Vancouver’s southernmost communities, north along the Sea to Sky Highway serving Squamish, Whistler, and Pemberton, and east to the Fraser Valley. It also specifically identified separate express routes on Highway 1 and Fraser Highway, starting from the Expo Line’s new easternmost terminus station in Langley Centre in 2028, when the Surrey-Langley SkyTrain extension reaches completion. Such services along the Sea to Sky Highway and to the Fraser Valley could potentially be operated by BC Transit, rather than TransLink.

Under BC Transit’s funding formula, the provincial government funds 47% of conventional transit bus systems and local governments fund the remaining 53%. Revenue collected from the local bus system is used to reduce the local property tax share of the costs. The regional district is funding a portion of the operating costs of extending the FVX to Lougheed Town Centre Station.

The provincial government is also conducting its own study examining transportation routes between Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley, with consideration for both potential housing and the possibility of extending commuter rail.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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