Tuesday November 16, 2010

 

Public Transit News

Transit Plan Stalls

Well-oiled bus system tops Chilliwack's Christmas Wish List

Voice staff

 

ear Santa: City Council doesn't want two front teeth for Christmas this year. They just want a functioning public transportation system. There is a master plan, honest, they just haven't formulated it yet. You may have to park the buses outside because space under the tree is kind of limited right now, but reduced fares and better service don't take up too much room. We'll leave some milk and cookies for you on the mantle and a bus pass in case your sled breaks down.

Currently, BC Transit is looking at developing an ambitious 25-year transit package for the Fraser Valley and Chilliwack plays a big part in the planning. Basically, with the exception of a proper bus loop, planners won't have to slam dunk in too many more bus stops or add that many more buses to the fleet to achieve the illusive well-oiled machine.

So far, Chilliwack's Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC) has the who and the why down but can't do anything about the what, where or how until the provincial government has completed their $400,000 Fraser Valley Transit Study (FVTS) that includes Hope, Agassiz, Harrison and Kent.

One of the elements the study is looking at, is the feasibility of light rail from Chilliwack to Surrey using the old Interurban line.

Anyone who's ever travelled between Calgary and Edmonton on their old rail system knows that light rail is viable option but it's anyone's guess if a similar system here will actually see enough ridership to warrant revamping crossings at $100,000 each.

There is also a concern that if a lot of money gets dumped into a passenger rail system that never gets used, or, if not turning a profit at a level where it can sustain itself without being heavy subsidized, then it may become a white elephant. That's a big risk for the government to take considering the sputtering provincial economy.

Late last summer, Chilliwack resident Jennifer Bigham, produced a transit study and made her own recommendations to the committee based on a rider survey. Rod Sanderson, Manager of Transportation, refers to her study in a city memo saying that Bigham pointed out the systems shortcomings.

"Six critical comments were identified: limited reach; no coordination; half of the service is redundant; incomplete service; it takes too long; and mass transit isolation," wrote Sanderson. So based on Bigham's report and other information, Sanderson recommended the City look at ways to improve transit in Chilliwack.

How Chilliwack fits into the BC Transit Future Plan picture, depends on how well the TAC has done their job in terms of realizing what actually needs to be done and how they work with BC Transit regional planning committees.

TAC wants to see a 10-year plan in place similar to the City's road maintenance system, but efforts to increase service and add buses would be stymied by a lack of funds unless ridership increases dramatically.

To their credit, TAC has come up with Christmas Wish List, albeit an abbreviated one, but one that includes; adding another conventional bus and HandiDart bus to the system, integrating the Regional Transit Plan into a new Local Transit Plan and constructing a real bus exchange. In addition, they recommend more simpler routes, improved and expanded future service as well as a promise to review fares and create incentives to increase ridership.

Coun. McLean told the Voice that the province pays 50 per cent, users pay 25 per cent and the city pays 25 per cent and any plan has to be cost-effective before being implemented.

One element of the plan's development includes input from the public sector prior to the information being absorbed by BC Transit in an effort to understand individual community needs.

"There has to be public consultation in the process so we have to look at all of that," said McLean. "Once we have the provincial study, we can look at both of them and see where they are on the same page, or where they're not, and then work from there."

Clearly, there has to be some foot-dragging happening on the provincial government's part because the FVTS was commissioned 2-years ago by then Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Kevin Falcon. So it is reasonable that municipalities are getting antsy to see the summary, especially Chilliwack, after UFV students put on some pressure on council for better transit and a fast connector to the Abbotsford campus.

Michelle Orfield, BC Transit, Senior Urban Transportation Planner, gave a presentation to city council at Monday's regular council meeting. In it, she highlighted ways BC Transit is going to achieve a proper transit plan for valley residents.

"We'll be looking at Chilliwack and how transit in other communities around it integrate," she told council. "Then we'll take everything we heard in phase one and go back to the plan and figure out how we can make that happen," explained Orfield.

BC Future Transit Plan Project Timeline

Nov 2010 - Feb 2011Review existing transit services

Jan - Feb 2011Public participation phase I

March - May 2011Develop prioritized implementation plan and create report draft

Apr - May 2011Public participation phase II

Jun - July 2011Finalize draft report

Aug - Sept 2011Present Transit Future Plan for local approval Activity

Review and confirm project Terms of Reference

Analyze Strategic Review of Transit in the Fraser Valley document

 

For more information visit the Fraser Valley Transit site here.

For information regarding  Christmas shuttle buses running over the holidays between Chilliwack and Abbotsford, from Hope to Chilliwack or from Abbotsford to Metrotown in Burnaby go here.

 

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