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SFU gondola plans grounded




Metro Vancouver mayors voted in favour of a $7.5 billion regional transit improvement plan on Thursday, June 12, but a lack of provision for the Burnaby Mountain gondola project has spurred SFU groups to take action.

On Thursday evening, Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS), the Graduate Student Society (GSS), and Sustainable SFU (SSFU) issued a press release regarding the exclusion of the Burnaby Mountain Gondola from the proposed 10 year regional transit plan.

Chardaye Bueckert, SFSS president, explained the groups’ reactions to The Peak: “We weren’t surprised, we weren’t overly shocked, but we were definitely disappointed, given that the project is such a high cost-benefit ratio.”

Bueckert is one of several gondola proponents who has been advocating for the project’s construction since early 2010. The gondola — or, as SFU President Petter likes to refer to it, the Burnaby skybus — would run from Production Way – University Station directly to Burnaby Mountain.

The project would cost approximately $120 million dollars and would reduce noise as well as air pollution of up to 7,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases.

Although a business case analysis by CH2M Hill found that the gondola would generate substantial benefits to commuters and the region, estimated at 3.6 times its cost in dollar terms, TransLink decided against it as the upfront cost would be $12 million more than continuing to run buses to SFU’s Burnaby campus over the next 25 years.

Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan explained the omission to the Burnaby Now: “I wanted a more realistic, more focused plan. If you keep adding items to a wish list then pretty soon it becomes so unrealistic that no one ever believes it will be done.”

Corrigan said the the decision was mainly based on economic feasibility. He said, “There’s a lot of arguments being made about the gondola being more environmentally sound than the buses are, and I think there’s merit to that argument, but when it comes to financial, the argument on it didn’t work.”

Proposals that were included in the list of potential transit initiatives include a new tolled four-lane Pattullo Bridge, light rail transit lines in Surrey, an extension of the Millennium Line along the Broadway corridor to Arbutus, a 25 per cent increase in bus service, and maintenance and upgrades to the 2,300 kilometres of the region’s major road network.

Nevertheless, Bueckert feels that the gondola, in combination with plans to expand the B-lines, for instance, “would be very complementary proposals.” According to the SFU groups’ joint press release, the gondola would eliminate the need for the 135, 145, and 144, liberating 32 buses an hour at peak times.

Combined with the expected $10 million bus upgrade that will be needed by 2020/21 due to increased demand for buses, Bueckert feels that “it’s a no-brainer to build this project.”

Despite its exclusion from the plan, Bueckert is optimistic about the ability of the SFU community to move this project forward. She said, “We’re not deterred, and we’re committed to this and we’re going to keep pushing, however we do not want to wait 20 years for this project.”

This story is developing and will be updated as more information is available.

  • Eric

    Some disinformation in the story: The estimated cost of the proposed gondola system was in the order of $120 million in 2011. If gondolas go up at the same rate as gasoline or milk or cheese, that’s probably in excess of $130 million today and if built in several years time, assume $140 million or more. That’s not “just over $100 million”.

    To review, the gondola plan was scrapped in January 2012 because it didn’t meet TransLink’s economic guidelines, and the public perception at the time was that the process to implement the gondola was being pursued in a less-than-transparent manner. SFU itself was not behind the plan for its transit-riding students, it originated from the SFU Community Trust, developers of the Univercity condominium community which generates revenue for the university via land leases.

    Several members of the TransLink board were (and some still are) sitting members of the Univercity board, or senior personnel at the university, creating more concerns about their altruism. The consultant hired by TransLink stated online before he was hired (for his expertise on gondola systems) that running the route over residential property was going to present huge challenges, and it did in the form of significant opposition from most residents in Forest Grove who would have had to live under the 70-metre towers along the route.

    Since early 2012 Univercity (the developers) have gone very quiet on the topic, and various student organizations at SFU have taken up the challenge. I don’t wish to be critical, but the fiscal realities of increasing taxes on homeowners, and the net benefit test of taxpayer-funded investment in transit clearly point to developing only those projects around the region that serve hundreds of thousands of riders on a daily basis, not four or five thousand a day for six or seven months a year. It might be a fun idea but there are many larger regional issues to address, and to determine an equitable means of paying for them.

  • Kristin S

    I think the gondola would also benefit the area’s appeal and attraction, it would draw people like a tourist attraction. It would be great for people who want to come up for hikes etc. I get that there are complexities and fiscal constraints but I hope it happens eventually!

    • Tamara Connor

      If we build a gondola through the conservation area and over the forest grove residential area, there may not be much hiking left. The core issue here should be adjusting the 145 route to make it more student friendly, not building a 100 million dollar gondola.

      • Kristin S

        Hmmm, this is true.. Yeah the 145 is an absolute mess.

      • S.M.

        I agree that the 145 is an issue, but still think the best fix is the gondola. Considering the budget lines for some of their other projects 100 million doesn’t seem that hefty, what I’d be interested in seeing is the projected upkeep costs, if they aren’t going to result in a long-term savings compared to increasing the number of buses going up the mountain then I would agree that it is not a feasible solution. However my understanding was that one of the main reasons for doing this was to save money and increase the flow of transit. I’ll have to re-read the previous report but it seemed pretty economically and environmentally sound, I’m a bit surprised to see the lack of support for it. My personal guess is that the strong (and extremely vocal) opposition from the forest grove residents and the lack of incentive for increased revenue since the universities students already have subsidized U-Passes that they all* have to pay (unless they choose to scrap the program in a couple years, but that’s unlikely) are the main reasons this is not going forward. I understand the position of the residents affected, I would probably be doing the exact same thing, but it does seem like the best option available still.

        I really don’t see how this would greatly impact the hiking trails the majority of the trails on the mountain are situated along the west/north/eastern sides. The preferred plan was to go through a section of forest grove and yes cut through at least part of the conservation area but kept at a minimal, and I only see it intersecting a single hiking trail. I bigger threat to the conservation area would be SFU’s own development plans which would/will remove fairly substantial swathes of the forest.

        *most – there are ways to opt out but they are not easy

      • David Bishop

        I think your statement is just a bit hyperbolic. Putting one or two towers in the conservation area will not wreck it–even with the removal of some trees the massive decrease in GhG’s would outweigh that. The RFP stated that there would be five towers in total–only two would likely be in the conservatation area.
        One could still hike the trails and be consoled that the air they were breathing would be fresher, the sound of the forest is all or mostly what they’d hear (instead of loud busses).
        The criticisms are kind of embarrassing because they are so weak!

  • Meme Hashtag

    bump. For comparison the Whistler P2P has four towers and cost $55M in 2008. The original project estimate was severely inflated by Translink. The only reason they aren’t doing it is because it doesn’t fit the standard transit paint-by-numbers thinking. It’s an absolute no-brainer by any stretch of the imagination but some nimbys in Forest Grove were having a hissy over it. Let’s buy them all some curtains for their most prudish windows and get on with it.