Mayors' Council approves TransLink's planning of SFU gondola transit line

Jul 25 2019, 8:50 pm

TransLink staff have been provided with permission by its Mayors’ Council to proceed with detailed planning for a new 3S gondola transit line between a SkyTrain Millennium Line station and Simon Fraser University’s (SFU) main campus atop Burnaby Mountain.

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Earlier today, the region’s mayors approved TransLink’s request to engage in public consultation, then create technical design and funding options. This follows the City of Burnaby’s recent preliminary approval of the project, with conditions.

The public transit authority maintains that the existing No. 145 bus route between Production Way-University Station and the campus experiences significant overcrowding and reliability issues, including service shutdowns during snowfall. Current uses of articulated buses and very high frequencies of two minutes are insufficient to meet demand, resulting in regular pass ups throughout the day, both peak and mid-day periods.

There is very little room for bus capacity to grow to meet the expected 60% growth in demand over the coming 20 years.

“We are having a challenge with serving existing demand with buses between Production Way and Simon Fraser University, and this is only forecast to increase. We don’t anticipate we would be able to serve this demand with bus-based technology, partly because of the route the bus has to take. This is a high-transit corridor,” said Geoff Cross, TransLink’s vice-president of transportation planning and policy.

“Gondolas are not suitable in a lot of different contexts, but in this particular one where you need to cross very difficult topography like mountains, ravines, and bodies of water, they can be much more direct and can provide medium-to-high capacity.”

SFU Burnaby Mountain gondola

Straight line, direct route for SFU Burnaby Mountain gondola from Production Way-University Station and the SFU campus, compared with existing bus route options. (TransLink)

With a growing student and staff population and an expanding residential community at Burnaby Mountain, a gondola transit line is expected to resolve all of these current issues, and provide ample capacity for future growth. The gondola would replace the No. 145.

In optimal conditions, the existing No. 145 has a travel time of about 15 minutes, but this is cut down to only about six minutes with the direct, straight-line route option for the gondola from Production Way-University Station to SFU Town Square, with large gondola cabins capable of carrying around 30 passengers each departing as frequent as less than every minute.

Cross confirmed that TransLink will carry out the City of Burnaby’s request to consider the feasibility of alternate, longer routes that take detours around residential areas, including an alternate route that begins at Lake City Way Station — a far longer route scenario that would require an additional transfer for passengers travelling from the Expo Line.

But he also reaffirmed the public transit authority’s position that the shortest, straight-line route from Production Way-University Station, which is the option that generates the most ridership and lowest construction and operating costs, is TransLink’s preferred option to advance. This $197-million option in 2020 dollars also has a highly positive benefit-cost ratio of 1.8.

SFU Burnaby Mountain gondola

Routes depicted for Option 1 and Option 2 for the SFU Burnaby Mountain gondola. (City of Burnaby)

SFU Burnaby Mountain gondola

Routes depicted for Option 3 for the SFU Burnaby Mountain gondola. (City of Burnaby)

TransLink is currently pursuing the federal green infrastructure fund to cover the cost of building the project to ensure the gondola project does not compete with other Mayors’ Council investments. After securing funding and completing detailed planning and procurement, construction could take just 18 months.

If federal funding is not secured, TransLink will push the project to after the current Mayors’ Council 10-year expansion plan and instead be considered with other transit investment priorities in Transport 2050.

During the same meeting today, the Mayors’ Council also gave TransLink with the green light to advance detailed planning and a business case submission to senior governments for a SkyTrain Expo Line extension on the Fraser Highway reaching Fleetwood.

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