TransLink's $20 billion plan to expand Metro Vancouver's public transit over 10 years

Feb 28 2023, 1:34 am

In Summer 2022, the previous makeup of the Mayors’ Council approved TransLink’s Transport 2050 10-year priorities for significantly expanding and improving Metro Vancouver’s public transit system.

And more recently, earlier this year, the new makeup of TransLink’s governance body of regional mayors and other elected leaders reaffirmed the previously approved 10-year priorities, and provided TransLink staff with the green light to commence planning.

All of the projects under the 10-year transit priorities between 2025 and 2035 carry a highly preliminary construction and implementation cost estimate of about $20 billion in 2022 dollar values. These one-time capital costs are in addition to the increased operating costs for running and maintaining the significantly expanded services and infrastructure, with TransLink estimating an increased annual operating cost of $1.2 billion — a 50% increase over the public transit authority’s existing annual operating costs.

Adequate funding remains an obstacle for executing not only TransLink’s expansion plans, but also to cover its forecasted continue revenue shortfalls due to ongoing pandemic impacts and rampant cost inflation.

This is why the Mayors’ Council made a formal request earlier this month to the federal government to provide $250 million in additional emergency operating subsidies to cover revenue shortfalls through 2025. It is anticipated this would be matched by the provincial government for a total third pandemic-time subsidy amount of $500 million from senior governments. Without this funding, TransLink warns it could be forced to make major cuts to service levels, which are currently hovering at 94% of pre-pandemic 2019 levels in terms of overall frequency and capacity.

The Mayors’ Council also asked the federal government to accelerate its promise of creating an annual Permanent Transit Fund by two years to start in 2026/2027, and permanently double the existing Canada Community-Building Fund (formerly known as the Gas Tax Fund).

These major funding gaps in both capital and operating costs for Metro Vancouver’s public transit system come at a time of a relatively strong ridership recovery, compared to TransLink’s counterparts elsewhere in Canada and the United States.

Metro Vancouver is also projected to see significant population growth due to immigration, which will add even more pressure to the region’s housing affordability issues. Public transit expansion would help fill the expected increase in transportation demand over the coming decades, while also providing new opportunities to catalyze additional housing supply, especially more affordable housing compared to the city of Vancouver.

“We have to implore the senior levels of government to be at the table and look at predictable, sustainable funding,” said Linda Buchanan, the mayor of the City of North Vancouver, in a recent Mayors’ Council meeting.

“[We need] to be able to put together a transportation system that quite frankly has been piecemeal for decades, and if we’ve learned anything through the pandemic, it’s that we actually can do things across government lines and do things quickly.

Buchanan added that this region cannot build major transportation infrastructure based on its hosting of major events, such as the original SkyTrain line (Expo Line) for the Expo ’86 World’s Fair, and the Canada Line for the 2010 Olympics.

During an event for the business community held by the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association earlier this month, Vancouver mayor Ken Sim suggested the need for the City of Vancouver to think regionally, and to support the priorities of other regional municipalities, which ultimately also benefit Vancouver in direct and indirect ways.

“Vancouver has been a terrible partner when it comes to regional issues, and that has to change,” said Sim.

“If we support the other sub-regions and what their challenges are, like transportation, making it easier to get into the city, then we can rely more on Burnaby and Surrey to build more housing, and more affordable housing that actually houses the people working in Vancouver.”

Here are the proposed projects under the 10-year priorities:

Doubling bus service, and transitioning to electric buses

By 2035, the region’s bus services will more than double (+130%) compared to existing service levels, which TransLink states is the largest increase in the region’s history and one of the largest increases in bus service proposed in Canada and the United States.

More parts of the region will be within walking distance of frequent bus service (frequencies of every 15 minutes or better) and extended service hours into the night, with about one-third of routes running 24 hours and most other routes operating until midnight or later. There will also be more access to popular park destinations.

In order to achieve such significantly improved bus service levels, TransLink states major investments are needed in bus loops/exchanges and bus depots for storage and maintenance, including upgraded facilities to handle the future major fleets of electric-battery buses.

TransLink intends to have a new fleet of nearly 500 electric-battery buses by 2030, which will be a fleet largely supported by the new Mapole Transit Centre bus depot in South Vancouver.

The overall bus service levels expansion over 10 years would be phased, with an aim to implement 30% of the bus service expansion over the first few years of the 10-year priorities timeline — from 2025 to 2027. The workforce employed under TransLink subsidiary Coast Mountain Bus Company would also expand enormously.

translink electric battery bus nova bus 100

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

IntroducingĀ Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), and expanding RapidBus and Express buses

As part of the doubling of bus service, TransLink’s bus services will become more layered and tiered, with the addition of more high-capacity, higher-frequency, and faster-speed routes that greatly differentiate from local routes.

In addition to the existing B-Line and RapidBus routes, TransLink will introduce up to 11 new additional RapidBus routes, create seven new limited-stop Express bus lines serving long-haul trips within Metro Vancouver and reaching the Sea-to-Sky Corridor and the Fraser Valley, and up to nine new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) routes.

There will be an effort to make a clear distinction between RapidBus, Express, and BRT services.

The BRT mode of bus will be superior to the RapidBus and Express, as TransLink intends to run these bus services on bus lanes that are fully physically traffic separated, along with traffic signal priority for buses crossing intersections, enhanced passenger amenities such as special bus shelters and real-time information digital signage, and the potential use of special BRT buses.

A BRT line serving the North Shore is expected to be amongst the first new BRT services that will be launched before the end of this decade. As a significant upgrade of the existing R2 RapidBus, this BRT will run east-west across the North Shore between Park Royal and Phibbs Exchange, where the route turns north-south across the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge to reach Brentwood Town Centre and Metrotown. All the while, TransLink will perform planning for a future permanent rapid transit project running along this same corridor beyond 2030, which could be an upgrade of BRT, the construction of light rail transit (LRT), the construction of SkyTrain, or a combination.

There will also be a second arterial bus route serving the North Shore via the Lions Gate Bridge, running between downtown Vancouver and Lonsdale. Such a service could be RapidBus or BRT.

The existing R1 RapidBus in Surrey could be extended south along King George Boulevard beyond its existing terminus in Newton to reach White Rock. The R1 RapidBus could also be potentially upgraded to the BRT standard.

The existing R3 RapidBus (between SkyTrain Coquitlam Central Station and Haney Place via Lougheed Highway) and R5 RapidBus (between SkyTrain Burrard Station and SFU Burnaby via Hastings Street) are being eyed for upgrades to the BRT standard.

TransLink is also planning RapidBus or BRT services along Marine Drive in South Vancouver and Marine Way in South Burnaby, running between SkyTrain Marine Drive Station in South Vancouver and SkyTrain 22nd Street Station in New Westminster. Such arterial bus services are also planned between Langley City Centre and Haney Place in Maple Ridge via the Golden Ears Bridge.

Planning has been underway for years to launch a new RapidBus route between SkyTrain Richmond-Brighouse Station and SkyTrain Metrotown Station via East 49th Avenue, Knight Street Bridge, and Bridgeport Road. Such a route has also been identified as a potential BRT service.

Later in 2023, TransLink will launch the R6 RapidBus — running along a 12-km-long, L-shaped route between SkyTrain Scott Road Station to Newton Exchange via Scott Road and 72 Avenue. This service could be further upgraded to BRT in a few years.

New bus priority measures on major roads would benefit both various arterial bus services and local bus servies.

translink 10 year priorities rapid transit

170 km of rapid transit expansion under Transport 2050’s 10-year priorities. (TransLink)

SFU Burnaby Mountain gondola

TransLink is planning to build the gondola transit line between SkyTrain Production Way-University Station and Simon Fraser University’s (SFU) Burnaby Mountain campus within the first phase of the 10-year priorities, between 2025 and 2027.

In 2022, both the City of Burnaby and the Mayors’ Council endorsed the direct, straight route for the gondola to reach the peak of Burnaby Mountain. Of the three route options considered, the chosen route has the lowest construction cost of $210 million, the lowest operating cost of $5.6 million annually, and the highest ridership potential due in large part to its shortest travel time of just six minutes.

The gondola will provide SFU Burnaby and its growing residential neighbourhood with a long-term transit capacity solution, and a mode of transportation that can operate in heavy snowfall and high wind conditions.

TransLink is currently working towards completing the full business case for the gondola project, with a new round of public consultation anticipated later this year. Most of the technical planning for the project will be conducted in 2023, including conceptual design. In Over the last few months, the public transit authority has issued a number of request for proposals seeking contractors to complete technical planning work for this project.

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)

UBC SkyTrain extension

Like the planning processes for the under-construction SkyTrain Millennium Line extension to Arbutus and the future SkyTrain Expo Line extension to Langley City Centre, TransLink has indicated that future project planning for the UBC SkyTrain extension will be led by the provincial government.

This will be a westward extension of the Millennium Line beyond its 2026-built interim terminus of Arbutus Station, running a distance of about seven km to reach the University of British Columbia (UBC) campus. Along the way, there will also be stations at Macdonald Street (on West Broadway), Alma Street (on West Broadway), and the Jericho Lands redevelopment, based on Vancouver City Council and the Mayors’ Council’s preliminary route approval last year.

The next planning steps are developing a concept plan and full business case. TransLink anticipates the UBC SkyTrain extension will be completed in the later years of the 10-year priorities timeline — sometime between 2030 and 2035. However, the Mayors’ Council has made a major stipulation: Implementation for this SkyTrain project will not begin until after the BRT services — including planning for the North Shore’s interim BRT service and long-term North Shore rapid transit planning — have launched.

translink ubc skytrain route options april 2022

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

translink ubc skytrain route april 2022

Terminus station location for the UBC SkyTrain extension of the Millennium Line, April 2022. (TransLink)

Other projects

Over the 10-year priorities period, in addition to the Millennium Line’s Broadway extension and the Expo Line’s Langley extension, SkyTrain services will increase by 10% on the Expo/Millennium lines and 65% on the Canada Line.

TransLink has plans to build a major additional operations and maintenance centre for SkyTrain in Langley to serve both the Expo Line extension and overall system capacity growth, but it will be a project separate from the Langley extension project that will reach completion in 2028.

TransLink will explore a potential SkyTrain extension along King George Boulevard to Newton within Surrey, and a short SkyTrain extension from SkyTrain Coquitlam Central Station to reach Port Coquitlam’s downtown.

An effort will be made to improve passenger comfort and amenities, including using technology to improve the cleanliness and safety of transit vehicles.

TransLink is looking to rollout new and improved bus shelters, which are typically a responsibility of municipal governments, as well as continue with SkyTrain station renovation projects, which could potentially include Stadium-Chinatown, Edmonds, 22nd Street Station, Columbia, and Gateway. Other examples of improved amenities include more real-time information displays on buses, and at bus stops and transit hubs.

SeaBus services will overall increase by 25%, particularly during the off-peak times, and to match the start and end of service times with those of SkyTrain Expo Line at Waterfront Station.

Investments will also be made towards improving active transportation infrastructure for walking and cycling.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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