With a federal election looming and a provincial election likely to follow shortly after, the University of British Columbia says there is a “narrow window” to convince all three levels of government fully fund an extension of SkyTrain’s Millennium Line from Arbutus Street to UBC’s Point Grey campus included in the next round of transit expansion.
That is why UBC has launched a new official advocacy campaign for the Millennium Line’s remaining journey to the university, which is deemed as the third largest employment centre in the province after downtown Vancouver and Central roadway.
About 80,000 staff, faculty, students, and residents are at the Point Grey campus daily, and the on-campus population is forecasted to grow by an additional 25,000 people over the coming two decades.
Furthermore, more than half of the 156,000 daily trips currently being made to and from the university are already on public transit — on 1,000 buses per day.
It is estimated that about 500,000 people are passed by every year on the 99 B-Line because the buses are too full. The 99 B-Line is, of course, by far the busiest bus route in Metro Vancouver with 57,000 boardings per weekday.
Road congestion and overcrowding is also leading to slower 99 B-Line speeds every year, with the route’s speeds now average at about 20 km/hr and slower during peak periods.
The university says technical analyses already performed indicate only an extension of existing SkyTrain infrastructure will meet future demand along the Broadway Corridor to UBC beyond 2045.
It is forecast that by 2045, there will be about 120,000 daily boardings at Arbutus Street Station, Macdonald Street Station, Alma Street Station, Sasamat Street Station, and two on-campus stations — one station near the intersection of University Boulevard and Wesbrook Mall and the new terminus station at south campus’ UBC Wesbrook Village.
The network effect of the SkyTrain extension to UBC will increase regional transit ridership by over 54,000 new transit trips per day upon opening and remove 2,000 peak hour private vehicle trips from the road network.
When the Broadway Extension up to Arbutus Street opens in 2025, the truncated 99 B-Line running between UBC and Arbutus Street Station is anticipated to immediately reach its practical capacity with similar peak volumes as today’s 99 B-Line.
In fact, the required transfer from subway to bus will likely turn Arbutus Street Station into one of the busiest transit hubs in the region on opening day.
“Extending SkyTrain service to UBC would eliminate this inefficient and inconvenient transfer to the B-Line buses at Arbutus,” reads UBC’s advocacy website. “Passengers will benefit from faster, more convenient transit times, and the businesses and residents along the Broadway corridor will benefit from less noise and congestion.”
“Buses from Arbutus St. to UBC will continue to be overcrowded and transfer times will limit project benefits. TransLink’s analysis suggests that on opening day of the Broadway Subway, pass-ups and overcrowding will continue to be the norm on the B-Line from Arbutus to UBC.”
Moreover, given that human behaviour values speed, UBC says studies show a SkyTrain extension showing highest on every metric, including travel time savings, car-to-transit mode share change, economic growth, community benefits, and greenhouse gas reductions.
Only SkyTrain to UBC offers reduced transit travel times that are below those of a private vehicle during the afternoon peak rush.
“Fast, frequent, high-capacity SkyTrain service all the way to UBC is essential if we want to mobilize people, lower commute times and reduce congestion,” the website continues.
In recent months, small vocal groups — including members from within the university’s academic community — have renewed their calls for a street-level LRT or streetcar extension west of Arbutus Street instead of a subway, but UBC makes it quite clear that this is not a feasible long-term solution.
While construction costs will be lower, travel time savings would only be marginally lower compared to the existing 99 B-Line, since LRT vehicles go through traffic at intersections and must abide to road speed limits.
Like the 99 B-Line, passengers would still be required to transfer at Arbutus Street.
LRT would also reach capacity within a decade after opening with little ability to expand. In fact, planners with TransLink and the City of Vancouver have previously stated that LRT trains would have to be as long as an entire city block to be able to meet the growing ridership of the Broadway Corridor.
Long street-level LRT trains, coupled with interference with road traffic, will create traffic congestion on an important east-west arterial route.
LRT from Arbutus Street to UBC is estimated to carry a cost that is roughly two-thirds of SkyTrain, but it will only provide about 25% of the capacity of SkyTrain and attract less than a third of the ridership in 2045.
With LRT, major investments would also be required to build a new operations and maintenance facility specifically for LRT, with much of the cost going towards land acquisition.
“SkyTrain is the most cost-effective transit option. It attracts more riders and saves people more time. As an automated system with high capacity vehicles, cost per rider is lower than smaller BRT and LRT vehicles with drivers,” the website continues.
“Running underground or on an elevated guideway, SkyTrain does not interfere with traffic. At-grade alternatives create ongoing impacts, including turning and pedestrian crossing restrictions. Faster, more reliable and better integrated with the broader network, SkyTrain attracts more riders.”
A complete SkyTrain extension to UBC will also open up significantly more work and housing options across the entire Broadway Corridor and SkyTrain system. The university notes there is a growing number of people living at UBC and working somewhere other than the university.
If all levels of government come to the table with funding soon, the university believes planning and design for the extension west of Arbutus Street could lead to a construction start in the early-2020s for an opening as early as 2028. This would depend on funding commitments by all levels of government by 2021.
UBC maintains it is ‘putting its money where its mouth is’ by exploring ways to make a “meaningful financial contribution” to TransLink’s share of the project costs, but doing it in a way that will not divert from academic funding and student tuition.
As announced by the university last year, this may include the land for the stations, collecting revenue from developments just like the City of Richmond’s strategy for funding the Canada Line’s new Capstan Way Station, and a direct financial contribution similar to Vancouver International Airport’s funding for the Sea Island portion of the Canada Line.
Over on the eastern end of the region, the grassroots advocacy group that contributed to the decision to cancel the Surrey Newton-Guildford LRT and the advancement of a Fraser Highway extension of SkyTrain’s Expo Line is welcoming UBC’s new SkyTrain advocacy.
“We are very pleased that UBC has come out as a strong supporter of SkyTrain as the region’s backbone rapid transit network. Building with SkyTrain maximizes South of Fraser commuters’ opportunity to access a significant regional destination reliably on transit,” Daryl Dela Cruz with SkyTrain For Surrey told Daily Hive.
It is estimated that combined with the upcoming Fraser Highway extension to Langley Centre, a SkyTrain extension to UBC would reduce the travel time between the two ends of the regional SkyTrain network to about 1 hour and 15 minutes, with only a single transfer at Commercial-Broadway Station and trains running frequently every few minutes.
This accounts for the existing 30-minute travel time between King George Station and Commercial-Broadway Station, the estimated future 22-minute travel time between Langley Centre and King George Station, and the estimated future 20-minute travel time between Commercial-Broadway Station and UBC.
The travel time on the $2.8-billion first phase Broadway Extension alone from Commercial-Broadway Station to Arbutus Street, with six new underground stations, will only be about 10 minutes.
“Students and faculty can live in Surrey and Langley and use transit to get to UBC and around the region,” added Dela Cruz. “That’s not something that is possible today.”