Surrey is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, currently housing 20% of the region’s population. With Surrey’s population expected to exceed that of Vancouver over the next 30 years, the city is looking to upgrade the current transit system to keep up with the growing demand.
As part of phase one of the 10-Year Investment Plan, the mayors of Metro Vancouver announced that the plan for light rail transit (LRT) in Surrey will go ahead, with construction of the first phase of the South of Fraser Rapid Transit Project expected to start in 2018. This first phase will connect Surrey Centre (where SFU’s Surrey campus is located), Guildford Town Centre, and Newton Town Centre. A second phase will eventually connect Surrey to Langley, allowing those who live in Langley easier access to the SkyTrain.
Andy Yan, the current director of SFU’s The City Program, described Surrey’s decision of LRT as “an important investment for the city.”
“Particularly since there is an SFU campus there [in Surrey], the LRT will be able to further allow students, faculty, and staff [who] live in the region more access to SFU Surrey on frequencies that they weren’t able to before,” Yan said in an interview with The Peak.
Aside from access, Yan cited positive benefits for the city, including lower cost as compared to other modes of transit, increased economic benefits, and improving the overall livability of Surrey.
Third-year geography student JT Cowan, who lives in Surrey, echoed Yan’s thoughts with regards to the LRT, particularly with regards to the ability for the future LRT to sustain ridership with the increase in population as well as accessibility for all.
“I am definitely in support of the LRT,” said Cowan. “Future development signs all over previously vacated land [. . .] tells me the corridors will be able to sustain ridership and create easy access for riders to their homes and jobs.”
He went on to say that the street level transport will greatly improve accessibility, as everyone will be able to walk on and off regardless of their challenges, as opposed to relying on elevators.
But not everyone is in favour of the LRT. The most vocal voices opposing the LRT are those behind the SkyTrain for Surrey web page. They argue that the cost to build the LRT and SkyTrain are the same, but in the long run, SkyTrain would cost less to operate. As well, they note that having a transit system that is “fully separated from vehicle traffic is imperative to making sure there are alternatives to being stuck in congestion.”
Matthew Furtado, a fourth-year communication and business student who also lives in Surrey, stands behind the SkyTrain for Surrey campaign, calling the LRT a “small bandaid on Surrey’s clogged, congested traffic arteries.
“I think this [LRT] is setting the bar too low, the problems with LRT are much too significant to call it an ‘expansion’ or ‘improvement.’ [. . .] LRT is no faster than a bus during rush hour,” Furtado said. “Not only would trains be delayed by Surrey’s frequent traffic accidents on its routes, but it would also prove impossible to navigate around them when accidents take place on its immobile tracks.”
For Furtado and many others behind the SkyTrain for Surrey campaign, a petition has been created to call on the Mayor’s Council to consider the alternative of SkyTrain and Bus Rapid Transit so as to avoid making what the campaign describes as the “most expensive mistake in the region’s history,” coming in at a proposed cost of $2.6 billion.
One thing that both sides of the table can agree upon is that Surrey is quickly outgrowing its current transit system and is in dire need of an upgrade in order to keep up with Surrey’s growth. With the start date for construction about a year away, both sides hope to make their arguments known to the public, all with the intention of moving Surrey forward.