TransLink 2018 - Part 3: Kevin Desmond on new SFU Burnaby Mountain gondola

Jan 1 2019, 12:56 am

‘TransLink 2018’ is a four-part Daily Hive end-of-year series on the state and future of Metro Vancouver’s public transit system, based on our recent extensive interview with TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond.

Part 3 discusses Desmond’s thoughts on the plan to build a gondola public transit line between Production Way-University Station and Simon Fraser University.

A plan to build a gondola public transit connection has been sitting on the back burner of TransLink’s expansion plans for the better part of the past decade.

It would create a fast, frequent, reliable connection between the Millennium Line’s Production Way-University Station and the peak of Burnaby Mountain, where Simon Fraser University’s main campus is located.

A current 15 to 20-minute No. 145 bus ride between both points, with buses departing every three to four minutes throughout most of the day, would be replaced with a high-capacity gondola system departing about every 30 seconds.

The end-to-end travel time on the gondola route, using enclosed gondola cabins similar to Whistler Blackcomb’s Peak 2 Peak, would be just seven minutes.

When the public transit authority last examined the project in detail in early-2018, an update on the original 2011 business case estimated the project would have a construction cost of about $197 million with a straight route and could attract about 38,000 boardings per day by 2021.

Such a ridership figure would be over four times the daily ridership the No. 145 received in 2017, with a majority of the ridership generated from new transit riders — not ridership transplants from other bus routes that serve the university.

Factoring in other benefits, such as travel time savings and reduced operating costs, the project had an exceedingly high benefit-cost ratio (BCR) of 1.8 (a BCR greater than 1.0 indicates that benefits surpass costs).

Contrast with some BCRs of other previous and planned TransLink projects.

The Canada Line had a BCR of 1.25, the Evergreen Extension earned 1.27, and the upcoming Millennium Line Broadway Extension is pegged at 2.3. A previous estimate for the proposed 16-km-long Fraser Highway SkyTrain extension of the Expo Line gave the project a BCR of 1.55.

The cancelled Surrey Newton-Guildford LRT’s BCR was just 0.69.

According to TransLink CEO, despite the highly favourable business case, the only challenge with this project moving forward — now that it has been inserted into the 10-year Mayors’ Plan — is funding. It is unsurprisingly the same dilemma virtually all public projects face in the region.

“We have no funding for it. At the moment, the impediment is really getting the senior level government of funding that could help leverage regional funding going forward,” Kevin Desmond said, adding that the public transit authority is working with the federal and provincial governments on possible funding commitments.

“We have been engaged with both the federal and provincial governments to explore what programs that the project could be funded. We happen to think the federal Green Infrastructure Fund is a potentially good candidate, as the gondola would be an emission-free electric system replacing diesel or hybrid buses going forward. So you get an environmental benefit from the gondola.”

TransLink needs these partners to come forward with funding assistance, on top of the funding the public transit authority is prepared to provide given that the new gondola would replace the operating and capital costs of some of the bus routes going up Burnaby Mountain.

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