SFU students to continue fight for gondola

Chardaye Buekert, right, is amongst a group of SFU student leaders urging the Mayors
Chardaye Buekert, right, is amongst a group of SFU student leaders urging the Mayors' Council to reconsider its decision to leave a proposal to build a gondola up Burnaby Mountain out of its transit plans for the next 10 years.

Student leaders at Simon Fraser University are disappointed that a proposal for a gondola to link the Burnaby Mountain campus to the Production Way SkyTrain station wasn't included in the Mayors' Council transit blueprint.

But they're not giving up their pitch.

Chardaye Bueckert, the president of the Simon Fraser Student Society, said her group, along with the SFU Graduate Student Society and Sustainable SFU, will  press Metro Vancouver mayors and the provincial government to reconsider their decision to leave the gondola project out of their of plan to expand transit in the region over the next 10 years.

That plan, which was unveiled last week, includes more buses, new light rail lines in Surrey and an extension of SkyTrain in Vancouver, as well as a new toll bridge linking Surrey and New Westminster to replace the aging Pattullo. The $7.5 billion plan would be paid for by a new carbon tax and eventually road pricing.

Bueckert said the gondola would be a cost-effective, efficient and environmentally-friendly way to get 40,000 students and 10,000 permanent residents up and down the mountain.

"The diversity of uses and travellers promotes all-day, bi-directional travel, which is ideal for transit efficiency," said Bueckert.

It would also make Burnaby Mountain "a more attractive place to live, work, study and play," she said.

In 2011 TransLink prepared a business case that showed a $100-million gondola link to SkyTrain would be the best solution to meet the growing transit demands of Burnaby mountain, which is currently served by several bus routes.

Bueckert said such an investment would be offset by the savings TransLink could realize by not having to buy and operate a larger fleet of buses to serve the mountain. Those buses could be used to improve service elsewhere in the region, she said.

A gondola would also cut down on air and noise pollution created by buses as well as reduce the travel time up and down the mountain to six minutes from its current 20 minutes during peak hours.

"The time savings is significant given the fact that SFU students have the 2nd worst travel times among Canadian universities," said Bueckert.

Long travel times, as well as overcrowded buses are uppermost in students' minds said Bueckert, as she and her colleagues continue lobbying students to make their voice heard in the upcoming transit referendum, which is expected sometime next year.

"Students care deeply about transit," said Bueckert. "It's an issue which impacts them daily. We will remind them of their opportunity to impact public policy with their vote."

But Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan said the gondola was perceived as a novelty or luxury item by TransLink.

"I don't think there was any appetite around the table for looking at another major capital expenditure given the amount of money that was already being spent."

Corrigan was the only mayor among the TransLink mayor's council present who voted against the capital plan, saying it is "far too ambitious already in regard to trying to set up a wish list that included everything from everybody."

When the plan becomes unrealistic, people will be less likely to support it, especially when the numbers tend to underestimate the real cost, he said.

TransLink's study of the proposal also found it would not save any money. Indeed, a gondola would have cost $12 million more over 25 years than bus service to SFU.

"They looked at it, decided that there wasn't a business case for making that decision to move to the gondola and so it didn't advance much beyond that," Corrigan said. "The project is one where if in fact the board is persuaded that the numbers are neutral that they definitely would look at that alternative."

~ with files from Wanda Chow


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