TransLink has denied calls by some members of the public and a Vancouver Park Board commissioner to launch a new additional bus service to and within Stanley Park.
During Thursday morning’s TransLink board of directors meeting, COPE commissioner John Irwin reiterated the comments he made to TransLink’s Mayors’ Council three weeks ago, requesting that the public transit authority start a new bus route that circles around Stanley Park, specifically Stanley Park Drive. Such a service, he says, should use a hybrid or electric-battery bus.
He also suggested increasing the frequency of the existing No. 19 Stanley Park/Metrotown trolley and switching the service’s vehicles to articulated buses, as well as having non-express North Shore buses serve new bus stops along the Stanley Park Causeway.
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Irwin noted that BC Transit’s Metro Vancouver operations, the predecessor to TransLink, used to operate a bus service around Stanley Park.
But a revival of the “Round The Park” was rejected by Geoff Cross, the vice president of planning and policy for TransLink, as an idea that is unfeasible for the foreseeable future. He also acknowledged that the former bus service that operated in Stanley Park was the No. 52, and it ended in 1998.
While the public transit authority has had some preliminary discussions with the municipal government, Cross says TransLink does not have the financial capacity and resources to deliver new unplanned services, given the organization’s fiscal crisis as a result of COVID-19.
“Certainly our intention is to serve these places where they’re having higher demand. Obviously, we are deploying all of our services, 100% of them right now, to try and serve and support the restart of the economy,” said Cross, emphasizing that TransLink is currently focused on maintaining existing bus services.
Due to physical distancing measures that restrict buses to just a seated capacity — totalling 66% of the overall bus capacity — TransLink currently requires more buses to move the same number of people safely.
“Anything we were to do at this point would require redeploying buses and operators, as we’re using all of our buses and operators on the existing routes on the system. Money, the people, or the vehicles aren’t there to move on something like this,” he said.
Cross also said this is more complex than simply sending buses to roam around Stanley Park. It requires logistical planning and physical work, including considerations to remove some vehicle parking stalls and ensuring there are sufficient turnaround areas for buses.
“We agree with the general idea about improving services and providing multi-modal access, but it’s going to take some additional time and resources that aren’t available right now,” said Cross.
TransLink’s latest forecast projects a revenue shortfall of between $379 million and $533 million for 2020 alone. During the meeting, TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond highlighted the continued precarious state of the public transit authority, as it may need to revisit its transit service level plans later in the year and consider possible reductions on existing services, if the level of emergency funding support from senior governments is insufficient.
The Park Board, which also heavily depends on user fees, is also expected to see a significant shortfall of $38 million, making it one of the largest shortfalls within a City of Vancouver department. It also typically sees about $4 million in pay parking revenue from Stanley Park.
For more than a decade, the Park Board operated and self-funded a free seasonal shuttle bus service within Stanley Park. It did not return for the 2010 summer season and onwards due to the Park Board’s fiscal challenges at the time.
The suggestion of starting a new Stanley Park bus route as early as this summer adds colour to the ongoing debate on the level of vehicle access that should be reintroduced within the 1,000-acre park.
For the next measures of the pandemic response, Park Board staff are still in the process of creating plans to divide Stanley Park Drive into a lane for vehicles and a lane for cycling using hard barriers, but this is not anticipated until late June or early July.
Businesses within the park, including the Vancouver Aquarium, are expected to remain closed until vehicle access reopens.