After years in the works, residents will soon be able to commute from Chilliwack to Abbotsford to Langley, and beyond, by public bus.
The Fraser Valley Express bus has been unanimously approved by the Fraser Valley Regional District at Tuesday's board meeting through a new bylaw.
"I'm pretty excited about this particular connection because finally, that invisible border between TransLink and the rest of the world will be erased," said FVRD director and Abbotsford mayor Bruce Banman. "People who want to get out of their cars to go to work will find a convenient way to do that…I think it's been that missing link that the public has been asking for for a long, long time."
For the first time, a BC Transit bus will seamlessly connect the three municipalities, which have a combined population of 317,000. The transportation authority is estimating 136,800 passenger trips annually.
The planned travel time from Chilliwack to Abbotsford is 30 minutes, with a total commute from Chilliwack to Langley in under one hour.
There will be a few stops in each municipality at key large centres, still to be worked out.
Already confirmed is a stop at Langley's Carvolth Transit Exchange, providing easy access to the SkyTrain via another express bus, as well as to neighbouring municipalities such as Surrey.
The Monday to Saturday service would run every 60-90 minutes during peak times, and 90-120 minutes off-peak.
"We're trying to make it a very quick and easy service to provide access to jobs within Chilliwack and Abbotsford, and everywhere else in the Valley," said BC Transit senior planner Michelle Orfield.
Existing Fraser Valley routes have proven the demand for public buses. The Harrison Hot Springs–Agassiz–Chilliwack bus is "booming" in ridership and will receive an increase in service, according to Orfield.
The Mission–Abbotsford and Aldergrove–Abbotsford lines are also doing very well, as is the Mission connection of the West Coast Express.
A plan to connect Hope to Chilliwack and Agassiz is in the works.
The total annual cost for operating the six-bus Fraser Valley Express service is $1.6 million. BC Transit will fund 47 per cent of the cost of the new route, with local municipalities kicking in the rest.
With the new FVRD bylaw in hand, BC Transit is going ahead with vehicle procurement, determining a fare structure, and finalizing routes and schedules.
The transportation bylaw will still need to be approved by Abbotsford and Chilliwack city councils. Both city mayors were enthusiastic about the initiative at the FVRD board meeting on Tuesday. A final approval from the provincial Inspector of Municipalities is also pending.
Although it usually takes 18 months to purchase bus fleets, Orfield is optimistic that BC Transit will be able to get this system up and running by next September.
In Abbotsford, part of the planning is contingent on the results of the city's current restructuring of its public bus system.
"We'll find a landing spot in Abbotsford for the loop…The current system to get into Aldergrove is just brutal. Brutal. This (the Fraser Valley Express) will actually be used," said Banman.
Earlier this month, the University of the Fraser Valley launched a private bus to shuttle students between the Chilliwack and Abbotsford campuses. The shuttle, funded partly by university students themselves, was the result of years of frustration from being unable to commute at a low cost between the two municipalities.
It is not clear what the future of the UFV shuttle bus firstname.lastname@example.org twitter.com/alinakonevski