Mayors like bus boost

Local mayors say TransLink’s latest lift in bus service in the South of Fraser area is a good first step toward the massive transit upgrade the historically under-served part of the region needs.

TransLink has devoted 54 per cent of its just-announced increase in bus service to the South of Fraser area, increasing the frequency along several routes.

It amounts to a 4.3 per cent boost in service in that part of the region.

“We’re a lot happier today than we were a number of months ago,” Langley City Mayor Peter Fassbender said Tuesday. “But we’re going to keep the pressure on.”

Back in December city councils in the area refused to endorse TransLink’s draft South of Fraser Area Transit Plan, arguing it would delay key rapid transit expansions until nearly 2030.

But the province’s $14-billion transit expansion pledge earlier this year in effect accelerated the plan and committed to extend SkyTrain to Guildford and then towards Langley sooner, along with bus rapid transit on corridors like King George Highway, Highway 99 and the Fraser Highway.

Cities in the region are now endorsing the South of Fraser plan, which is expected to reflect the accelerated schedule when it’s approved by TransLink’s board in May.

“We believe (our message) has been heard and that there’s a recognition that we need to move now, not 10 years from now,” Fassbender said.

Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts said she’s pleased with the new direction for transit.

“There are 750,000 people South of the Fraser and we’re going to be absorbing 40 per cent of the region’s growth,” she said. “There has to be a recognition for the infrastructure to be put in place.”

But the mayors admit the service increase that took effect April 21 is still a baby step.

The South of Fraser area gets just a third of the transit service on a per capita basis as the Metro Vancouver average and just a quarter of the service devoted to Vancouver and Burnaby per capita.

The disparity translates into much more frequent runs and a tighter mesh of routes in Vancouver than Surrey and Langley and fuels complaints that transit in the southeast suburbs is unusable.

TransLink maintains good transit is gradually coming to more people across the region.

Its Frequent Transit Network – routes where buses run no more than 15 minutes apart, 15 hours a day, seven days a week – now covers for 46 per cent of Metro Vancouver’s population.

That’s forecast to climb to 50 per cent by 2010, although the gain isn’t all from buying more buses – much of it is because more people are living near transit routes as high-density development increases.

Within the South of Fraser, however, only 21 per cent of the population – 139,000 residents – can walk from home to a frequent transit line.

TransLink officials say there are several more routes where service is 15 minutes or better at rush hour but not consistently all day to make the frequent grade.

Area mayors want to see the frequent routes continue to multiply.

“Once we get to every 15 minutes, 15 hours a day there is some hope people will get out of their cars,” Langley Township Mayor Kurt Alberts said.

He sees 200 Street as one of the major rapid transit corridors in the area where higher density development will be welcomed.

Langley City also intends to densify its downtown core on the expectation rapid transit will arrive.

Also at issue is whether an eventual rapid transit extension from Surrey towards Langley should use SkyTrain or light rail technology.

Watts said Surrey is looking forward to getting a detailed analysis from transportation minister Kevin Falcon examining both options.

Typically elevated SkyTrain lines cost four times as much as light rail, meaning the same budget can extend light rail lines four times as far.

But light rail can have slower running times and other challenges because the lines cross streets and highways.

“I know the minister favours SkyTrain,” Watts said. “I just don’t know that that’s in the best interest of the City of Surrey. We’ll have to do that analysis.”

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