TransLink to double bus service, including 9 new Bus Rapid Transit lines

Apr 20 2022, 9:02 pm

For over two decades, Metro Vancouver has known the B-Line express bus, and more recently its upgraded iteration of the RapidBus, but it has yet to see a true Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) mode.

BRT has been identified as one of the key strategies for TransLink’s 10-year expansion priorities, with the implementation of up to nine BRT routes across the region.

TransLink launched public consultation today on its various proposed investments, which were also outlined in the recently approved 30-year Transport 2050 strategy.

Introducing BRT to Metro Vancouver

Unlike the B-Line and RapidBus, the BRT mode comes with major physical infrastructure features to carry the characteristics of rapid transit: speed, frequency and reliability, and high capacity. Major BRT systems exist in cities such as Bogota in Columbia, Guangzhou in China, Cleveland in the US, Brisbane in Australia, and previously in Ottawa.

To achieve speed, frequency, and reliability, existing roadways — vehicle lanes and/or curbside parking lanes — would be repurposed and physically separated from general traffic for bus-only lanes.

Along with the major tradeoff of removing road space for general traffic, there would also be other bus priority measures, such as traffic signal priority.

For high capacity, along with frequency, the BRT would use special large electric-battery buses. For example, some BRT vehicles in other cities are larger than TransLink’s current 18-metre articulated buses on B-Line and RapidBus. These buses carry a resemblance to light rail trains (LRT), but with rubber wheels.

Rapid transit is also associated with a higher degree of passenger amenities and comfort. Along with the special buses, there could be features such as covered bus stations, real-time information on digital displays, fare machines, and fare gates for on-street boarding. Such bus stations would also be similar to LRT.

Artistic rendering of a BRT vehicle for the Brisbane Metro’s bus rapid transit system. (City of Brisbane)

brisbane metro brt bus f

Example of an enclosed BRT station in Bogata with fare gates and fare machines. (Shutterstock)

For the nine BRT lines within the first 10-year expansion priorities under Transport 2050, the routes include major upgrades to three existing RapidBus routes:

  • RapidBus to BRT upgrade: R3 Lougheed Highway (Coquitlam Central Station to Haney Place in Maple Ridge)
  • RapidBus to BRT upgrade: R5 Hastings Street (Burrard Station to SFU Burnaby)
  • RapidBus to BRT upgrade: R6 Scott Road (Scott Road Station to Newton exchange). R6 will be launched in 2023, before its eventual upgrade to BRT.
  • New BRT: Surrey to White Rock via King George Boulevard
  • New BRT: Langley to Haney Place in Maple Ridge via 200th Street, Golden Ears Bridge, and Lougheed Highway
  • New BRT: Marine Drive Station to 22nd Street Station via Marine Drive/Marine Way
  • New BRT: Richmond Centre to Metrotown via Knight Street Bridge, Victoria Drive, and 49th Avenue
  • New BRT: Downtown Vancouver to Lonsdale via Lions Gate Bridge
  • New BRT: Metrotown to Park Royal via Ironworkers Memorial Bridge

But the start of the implementation period would not begin until 2024/2025 at the earliest, with TransLink planning to retain 2022 bus service levels through 2024 due to the pandemic’s ongoing impact on ridership and its finances.

translink transport 2050 10 year bus rapid transit

Rapid transit plan for the first 10-year expansion priorities of Transport 2050. Click on the image for an expanded version. (TransLink)

TransLink anticipates the cost per km for BRT is $15 million, which can be built more quickly and at significantly lower cost than SkyTrain at $400 million per km.

According to the public transit authority, the region will achieve 100 km of SkyTrain between 1985 and 2028 (including the Millennium Line Broadway Extension to Arbutus, and the Expo Line Surrey-Langley Extension to Langley), which is an average rate of 2.3 km per year.

With BRT, it anticipates it can build 13 km per year over 10 years, with planning, design, and construction taking two to three years. The same process for a SkyTrain line typically takes about a decade.

11 more RapidBus routes

Within the 10-year priorities, TransLink is also aiming to plan and implement 11 new RapidBus routes, including routes that will eventually transition to a BRT through upgrades. This will help build ridership, until funding is made available for the required infrastructure investments for BRT.

  • New RapidBus routes in the first five years:
    • Langley to Haney Place via 200th Street
    • Downtown Vancouver to Lonsdale via Lions Gate Bridge
    • Marine Drive Station to 22nd Street Station via Marine Drive/Marine Way
    • R1 King George Boulevard route extension from Newton to White Rock
    • Richmond Centre to Metrotown via Knight Street Bridge, Victoria Drive, and 49th Avenue
  • New RapidBus routes for the second five years:
    • Downtown Vancouver to Ambleside via Lions Gate Bridge
    • Carvolth exchange to Scott Road Station via 96 Avenue
    • Commercial Drive/Victoria Drive
    • Langley to White Rock via 24th Avenue
    • New Westminster Station to Brentwood Town Centre Station via Canada Way
    • Newton to Guildford via 152nd Street

The RapidBus concept first launched in early 2020, which upgraded the B-Line express bus concept with special RapidBus-branded buses, special bus stops with maps and real-time digital signage, and some bus priority measures such as bus-priority lanes in shared traffic. The bus priority measures for each RapidBus route launched to date generally cost about $15 million or under.

TransLink R2 Marine Drive RapidBus

TransLink’s R2 Marine Drive RapidBus. (Bowinn Ma/Twitter)

10-year plan also includes SFU gondola and more SkyTrain

But BRT does not replace the need for SkyTrain on major corridors where there is exceptionally high demand and long-term growth potential. Moreover, BRT — like the region’s history with the B-Line — could be the precursor to SkyTrain in the future as ridership builds up.

Some corridors require the speed, frequency, and capacity that can only be offered by SkyTrain, which has an ultimate design capacity of up to 25,000 passengers per hour per direction (pphpd) for the Expo and Millennium lines, and 15,000 pphpd for the Canada Line. The 99 B-Line has a capacity of 2,000 pphpd during peak hours, while BRT systems in other cities are known to reach a capacity of up to 3,000 to 4,000 pphpd.

In the 10-year priorities, TransLink has included the UBC SkyTrain Extension of the Millennium Line from Arbutus Station to the UBC campus. The public transit authority outlined its proposed recommended route and station locations for this extension this week.

The Burnaby Mountain Gondola from Production Way-University Station to the SFU Burnaby campus is an investment this decade.

Both Vancouver City Council and Burnaby City Council recently endorsed the routes for UBC SkyTrain and the gondola, respectively.

translink ubc skytrain route options april 2022

TransLink’s recommended route and station locations for UBC SkyTrain, April 2022. (TransLink)

translink burnaby mountain sfu gondola route 1

Route 1 for the Burnaby Mountain Gondola between SkyTrain’s Production Way-University Station and the Simon Fraser University campus is a direct, straight-line route. (TransLink)

As well, TransLink states that within its 10-year priorities, it will consider exploring potential SkyTrain extensions, including a short route extension from Coquitlam Central Station to downtown Port Coquitlam, and from Surrey Central Station to Newton via King George Boulevard.

TransLink has also identified a “fully traffic-separated rapid transit” line serving the North Shore between Park Royal in West Vancouver and Metrotown within the 10-year priorities, but it came short of specifically stating it would be a SkyTrain line.

The gondola and half of the BRT would be implemented within the first half of the 10-year timeline, while the UBC SkyTrain Extension and North Shore rapid transit line would see real progress in the latter half.

Rapid transit on 11 corridors with a combination of BRT, the gondola, and SkyTrain would add over 170 km of rapid transit within the 10-year priorities.

By the end of the 10-year priorities, TransLink would also have doubled the region’s bus service levels, which will be accomplished by not only the new BRT lines, but also drastically improving existing local bus routes with greater frequencies and longer service hours, as well as introducing new local bus routes.

There is an aim to implement bus priority measures on the entirety of the existing frequent bus network (bus routes with 15 minutes or better frequency all day), and on 25% of the expanded frequent bus network. TransLink intends to spend $17.5 million for new bus speed and reliability measures between 2023 and 2024.

As well, a $1.5 billion investment is being eyed this decade on zero-emission bus infrastructure, including 462 electric-battery buses by 2030, a new Marpole Transit Centre bus depot in South Vancouver for the home base of 350 electric-battery buses, upgrades to existing bus depots to support electric-battery buses, installation of on-route charging stations for electric-battery buses, and the transition to renewable natural gas for buses that use natural gas.

translink electric battery bus nova bus 100

A Nova Bus electric-battery bus used by TransLink charging at the Marpole bus loop. (TransLink)

Longer-term planning studies will also be conducted, including increasing the capacity on the Expo Line and Canada Line, long-term rapid transit on the 41st Avenue/49th Avenue corridor between UBC and Metrotown, and more passenger ferries.

TransLink and the provincial government will also explore regional and interregional express services, such as commuter rail to the Fraser Valley, a capacity and route expansion of the West Coast Express, and new interregional express bus services to White Rock via the new replacement George Massey tunnel, along the Sea to Sky Highway to Squamish and Whistler from downtown Vancouver, between Coquitlam Central Station and Surrey Central Station via Port Mann Bridge, and reaching the BC Ferries terminals in Horseshoe Bay and Tsawwassen.

Passenger amenities, and walking and cycling infrastructure

Systemwide passenger amenities will greatly improve, specifically at bus exchanges and SkyTrain stations. This includes more real-time digital displays, wayfinding, and the implementation of a public washroom strategy, with six washroom locations now planned.

TransLink is also planning a $216 million overhaul of the Compass system and fare gates, which is now nearing capacity and requires tech upgrades to enable more fare options.

Another major service upgrade is proposed for HandyDart, which would increase its point-to-point shuttle service by 60% to meet future ridership demand, and expand it to a 24-hour service.

As part of the 10-year priorities, TransLink intends to make significant investments in active transportation, including $19.2 million for walking infrastructure to transit between 2022 and 2024, and $50.5 million for cycling infrastructure over the same period.

It will complete 75% of the 850-km traffic-separated major bike network across the region, and build bike networks in every urban centre.

As well, it will build six new additional bike parkades and 200 new additional bike lockers.

translink bike parkade

Bike parkade at SkyTrain’s Bridgeport Station. (TransLink)

How will it be funded?

Like the previous Mayors’ Council 10-year vision, the new 10-year expansion priorities will greatly depend on funding from the provincial and federal governments.

TransLink has also been lobbying the provincial government to create a new constant and reliable source of revenue for public transit, given the uncertainty of demand-driven fare and gas tax revenues, and the long-term impacts of the pandemic.

TransLink has not established an estimate on the total cost of these various projects, but components like maintenance and replacement of aging infrastructure, facilities, and vehicles will cost $3.7 billion alone to ensure a “state of good repair.”

The current public consultation will be used to develop a refined 10-year expansion priorities and investment plan strategy for the Mayors’ Council’s review and final decision this summer. After approval, TransLink and the Mayors’ Council will begin to pursue the provincial and federal governments for funding.

The online survey on what projects should be included in the 10-year expansion priorities is open through May 4, 2022.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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