Elections

Getting somewhere with Chilliwack transit

Council candidates were asked how to increase the transit options in Chilliwack. - JENNA HAUCK/ PROGRESS FILE
Council candidates were asked how to increase the transit options in Chilliwack.
— image credit: JENNA HAUCK/ PROGRESS FILE

Transit is a perennial issue for Chilliwack residents and a number of studies have taken on the problem in recent years, both locally and intra-regionally. What can city council do to increase the transit options?

 

Gord Kornelsen: There is in place a well funded and transportation system the Chilliwack Transportation System. Agassiz-Harrison Transit System interlinks with Chilliwack for great option for those outside of Chilliwack. Any increase of service would be at additional costs. Without addressing this specifically through the budget process it impossible to promise any increase in transit options. I believe the current transit options are all there is unless council has some unreleased news flash changing the current situation. Cycling is a good option if you are willing to take the risk.

 

Chuck Stam: The City of Chilliwack is working closely with BC Transit (who pay 50% of our transit costs) to create a cost effective and well subscribed transit system to serve our local and regional transit needs into the future. I fully support an integrated plan linking walking, biking, and transit which benefits our health while creating a compact and easy to understand regular schedule.  Service to our handi-dart and para-transit users needs to be expanded and cannot think of a better way to honour the contributions of our seniors than by providing for their mobility. An aspect often overlooked in regional transit discussions is the underlying need to attract more good jobs to Chilliwack thereby eliminating the need us to commute to jobs outside of the community and providing for an even better quality of life!  Questions? Please email me at chuck@chuckstam.com

 

Sue Attrill: City council is currently redesigning the transit system in Chilliwack. We operate six buses that run 12 routes. Ridership averages about 450,000 paid passengers per year. There are many buses that are underutilized so we are looking at better routes to meet the needs of riders. This is one project I would like to see completed in the next term of City Council.  I agree that our current routes were designed so long ago that they no longer meet the needs of our growing community.  Ultimately we need green transit solutions for travel to Abbotsford and beyond.  I don't think rail for the valley is the solution.  It is a very costly option for taxpayers.  We do need something.

 

Dick Harrington: When you mention "transit" in Chilliwack, you could be talking about two separate issues; local busing and inter-urban transit to the greater Vancouver area. On the subject of local busing, I have noticed on many occasions as I walk and deliver my leaflets, city buses passing by either empty or with one or two passengers. It is too easy to generalize on occasions such as these; however, I wonder if there has been a recent feasibility study that looks at rider numbers. As more and more people demand greater accessibility to bus schedules, we have to ask ourselves if this is warranted. Chilliwack transit is a partnership between the city of Chilliwack and the Provincial Crown agency, BC Transit. The Province covers 50% of the cost of our local transist, Chilliwack covers 20% and the remaining 30% is covered through fares. Chilliwack transit once said that they provide over 400,000 rides per year to local citizens. Again, we need an updated evaluation of the transit schedules and the rider numbers. It may be that some routes may have to be altered or eliminated if they are not being used. The issue of inter-urban transit is another issue. Greg Knill of the Progress put it in a nutshell in March of 2010 when he said "But the issue should be more than a revival of an old rail link. It should be about a Regional Transportation plan that delivers the maximum economic and social benefits". I completely agree with Greg on this point. That said, I am in favour of looking seriously at a "light-rail" transit system between Chilliwack and the greater Vancouver area- perhaps to the Surrey Interurban terminal. There is a committee made up of local politicos from most communities south of the Fraser River. However, it saddens me that the city council of Chilliwack does not have representation on this committee. This is a must. How can you really know what is going on when you don't have representation? It may be true that the cost of repairing and upgrading the old light-rail lines may be prohibitive; but, let's get involved and find out for ourselves. In closing, we have many seniors who need to travel to Vancouver for medical appointments and find the travel very difficult. The existing Greyhound bus service is limited and often does not allow these seniors to return home at a reasonable hour. There is no doubt that a much-improved system to downtown Vancouver would benefit many people in this community.

 

Gerry Goosen: First take into consideration what the research is saying in regards to Chilliwack's "transit problem." Second, when Chilliwack's current buses need to be replaced, consider smaller and more fuel efficient buses.

 

Ian B. Carmichael: I have had occasion to use transit in our city. Personally, I am fortunate to live within easy and timely walking and cycling distance, of nearly all my regular needs. I still rely on a personal vehicle, but considerably less today as compared to as little as 5 years ago. The answer is that the City in partnership with BC Transit, is and will continue to invest in transit improvements. As a society accustomed to travelling “where we want, when we want”, the challenge for our transit system is providing timely and efficient service that meets the requirements of the population, both those who are current transit users and future transit users. This is a dynamic challenge which requires constant review and flexibility to adjust to the changes our growing community demands. Has our system been successful in that goal? Not always. Is there opportunity through a process of continual improvement to provide better service? Absolutely.

There is a demonstrated need for improved transit on a regional basis, if only for those dependent on transit, to be able to access medical and educational opportunities not available in their home community. The regionalization of these services is a proven hardship for those dependant on transit. There are initiatives for improvements in regional transit, however this is an issue that requires the component communities and provincial government to work in the best interest of the greater good to find reasonable, rational and realistic solutions.

 

Garth Glassel: Transit has been a tough problem for the whole Lower Mainland. Chilliwack has been no exception, but with the lack of local jobs, people still need to commute to other locations. As we are still a mostly rural area, bus service is impracticable in most areas. So for a few thoughts, I would like to put forth some points.

I have never ridden a bus in Chilliwack, because for me to get to one I would need to drive 15 minutes to get to a bus stop. So for the people in Greendale, Rosedale, Yarrow and such, it really is not an option. So quit wasting our tax dollars on rural routes which run empty. Instead start concentrating on service to industrial areas and shopping areas and the centre core of the city. Up and down the major roads like Vedder, Young, Evans, Yale etc… service the shopping, universities and industrial areas, not the farm lands.

We can’t still be doing things as they were done 50 years ago, that is why we are in the mess we are in with Chilliwack’s transit system. We have spent tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars on studies with no results from the current council. We need to do actual ridership counts and eliminate under-performing routes and enhance the more popular routes. Also, we need to take a hard look at ridership costs. The city can’t keep subsidizing the transit system, we must look to a more “user pay” system. I feel that by eliminating some routes and increasing the cost to ride the popular routes, we could cut the cost to the taxpayers. Now before every one starts howling, I think we could keep students, seniors and the poor at the same fee, for now.  As for commuting to Vancouver, all we really need to do is to link with the West Coast Express not a complete new rail system, which many people are shouting for. The Express could then be enhanced to run a more rounded out schedule to accommodate, all day and night use.  I say, quit looking to reinvent the wheel when the solution is right in front of us. That’s my “Common Sense” approach. Garth Glassel for a “Common Sense” approach to Council.

 

Phill Bruce:  When I first moved to Chilliwack over 14 years ago commuting west to work was a romantic idea. I have been quoted as saying during this election; “do we need it, can we afford it?”  When we make decision as a community we should always use evidence based studies or research before coming to a conclusion. The two thing that need to be looked at are how many people will seriously consider using light rail to commute.  And financial viability. Leewood projects of England released an legitimate unbiased study. This study is what I have used to help explain how we can decide are light rail future. The price range for the rail electric rail cars and up grade to track would be approximately 800 million dollars. Ridership would have to be subsidize to make it practical for people to use it consistently. Staying with the financial aspect of this study we would have to consider running at a loss for at least 10 years as we did with the first light rapid transit line after expo '86. Question who pays for all this? It has been previously stated for many years that “we are not a bedroom city to Vancouver.” To that statement I will say that those people they don’t see the steady stream of commuters leaving Chilliwack in the wee hours of the morning like I did for many years. We do on the other hand need to know the number of people who could use this commuter option. I think most long time residents would be shocked at how many people commute west to work. Is there cheaper option such as buses?  In conclusion Do We Need It, Can We Afford It).

 

Ron Browne: Our city provides two types of transit services: conventional services (the regular buses); and custom services (handyDART). Each of these will be expanded by one bus next year. This will allow the regular bus route to be redesigned with increased frequency to some areas. Both services should continue to be expanded as ridership and funding permits. There are ongoing discussions among Chilliwack, Abbotsford and BC Transit staff regarding a connecting bus service between our cities. The needs of University of the Fraser Valley students, healthcare patients, commuters to work and shoppers are being considered.  These competing needs are listed in priority as I see them and I will advocate for them as a member of Council. The Strategic Review of Transit in the Fraser Valley released in December 2010 states “opportunities for rail service between Chilliwack-Abbotsford and Langley/Surrey should be retained for a possible future service. This would include preserving rail corridors in the Fraser Valley Regional District and adjacent Vancouver.” The report estimates it will take more than 20 years for rail service to Chilliwack to be economically viable. With respect to commuter travel, the best solution is to grow more jobs in our community and this should be our priority. Less travel reduces the carbon emissions and gives us more time with our families. For those who must continue to commute, the implementation of the report’s recommendations is important.

 

Brenda Currie: City council can commit to supporting it by lobbying BC Transit to place more buses in Chlliwack, increase their frequencies, number of stops, and creating additional transit "hubs" at the Sardis UFV & Garrison Landing and Chilliwack Stream and Prospera sites, to add to ones already in place at the Mall and in Downtown Chilliwack. Chilliwack needs an affordable, quick and efficient transit to be able to access the business areas where people work, as well as the areas that families play during their days off.

 

Chad Eros: In regards to improving public transit, we first need to ask for the $43 million back for the investment into Evans Road/Eagle Landing development on Aboriginal land from the Federal Government since developing Aboriginal land is their mandate. Then we can use that money to invest in both local and intra-regional transit. The City needs to be way more aggressive when negotiating with the federal and provincial governments and make sure its mayor and councillors don't get star struck by high profile MPs and MLAs when negotiating. I don't understand why our municipal government funded the lion's share of developing Aboriginal land to the tune of $43 million while the feds committed a measly $2 million. This is a joke. Again, I have no problem with the Eagle Landing Development, however, the federal government has a bigger federal tax pot to draw from which Chilliwackians already contribute to, and it is the federal government's mandate to use these tax dollars accordingly when developing Aboriginal relations and land. Aboriginals won't deal with the province or municipalities on land claim issues because those issues are between Aboriginals and the federal government. Over and over again, the province and municipalities have tried to intervene in land claim issues, and over and over again, Aboriginals have told them to mind their own business, as they should. But when we enter into a deal with the federal and provincial government to improve Aboriginal lands, we end up committing to contributing 10 times more than the federal government with future investments to increase Chilliwack's share to 20 times that of the feds! I do not understand this transaction. On one had, local governments are not to negotiate with Aboriginal nations for land deals that would benefit them, and on the other hand, we are expected to contribute to land deals that will benefit the Federal government's profile and Aboriginal land. There needs to be a public outcry for answers, especially when the federal government is touting an Economic Action Plan to invest in to communities in the the world's worst recession since the Great Depression. In this transaction, the feds look neglectful, not generous. The money is definitely there to build transit from Chilliwack to The West Coast Express in Mission, and to upgrade our downtown. If a city of 80,000 can cough up $43 million for infrastructure supporting land development on Aboriginal land, why can't we cough it up for ourselves? Furthermore, if we can cough up $43 million for a federal government mandate, how much can they cough up for their own mandate? We need city councillors that understand the roles of each level of government and won't be enticed, strong armed, star struck or intimidated into strange deals that deplete local government coffers. I don't understand why this transaction has not reached national news yet. I really can't stress enough how concerned I am that the Federal Government claimed our city surplus for their own, leaving us in a state of poor city transit and a dilapidated down town. Chilliwack should be proud of that surplus they accumulated up to 2008, the year of the Great Recession. Chilliwackians need to demand to know the reasons why the Federal Government reversed roles with us and convinced us to hand over our surplus funds  to fulfill their mandate. Every time the media posses questions involving investment into transit, downtown... whatever, I will keep coming back to this. It just blows my mind.

 

Mitchell Nosko: The Chilliwack residents that I have discussed this issue with are most frustrated with the lack of transit options for connecting Fraser Valley communities. This is not a new problem and to solve it will require the political will and cooperation of all levels of government. We will need to come together to create an innovative plan for a transit system that makes sense. In the interim, I think we can take a look at some of the inefficient routes and make changes to reduce costs. I believe there is an immediate requirement for an intra-regional express bus service connecting Chilliwack with Abbotsford and Mission where connections to the West Coast Express can be made. Ultimately, I believe that a rapid rail system should be the long term goal for the Fraser Valley.  The real dilemma is that for anything to move forward on this issue the Provincial Government will need to make funding public transit a major budgetary focus; especially to cover the startup costs. Currently, the long term goals of BC transit revolves around increasing the level of ridership. Their projections are based on the number of people currently using the system as is. The Strategic Review of Transit in the Fraser Valley states: "Today, transit services in the Fraser Valley are not as extensive as those of similar size communities in British Columbia and relatively modest when compared to communities where transit is considered an attractive alternative to driving." Why? I would suggest that people don't use transit because taking a conventional bus route any distance like on an intra-regional trip is very inconvenient and extremely slow. The only way people will be willing to leave their vehicles in favour of transit is for transit to be more efficient and user friendly.  BC Transit's long term philosophy seems to be to attempt to change people's behaviour instead of changing the services they provide. Ultimately, the question of ridership will not be answered until a detailed plan is in place and presented to the public. Studies have predicted that the majority of population growth in the next 20 years will occur in Abbotsford, Mission and Chilliwack. With better transit options, Chilliwack will be a more attractive place to live. Ron Wedel: I look at this problem and see that there are two complications Chilliwack has to deal with.  On one hand we have quite a large area of rural land that makes having an effective transit system very hard to have.  We also have a small population compared to other centres. Again that population is spread over a large area rather than densified in a concentrated centre.  I think this problem will be with us for some time to come until our city grows enough to make it a viable enterprise.

 

Roger Myers: Transit seems to be an on again, off again issue. It appears to me that there have been several rallies and education forums of late discussing issues from increased fares to compensate ridership, the rebirth of rapid transit using the existing BC Southern Railway (BC Electric line) to reduction on some routes. From what I have seen as a motorist, depending on the time of day, is nearly empty buses, running their route regardless of lower ridership. I believe the council of past and present are dealing with the issues the best they can. As the question states, a number of studies have been done with minimal impact. The odd route cancelled or sections diverted, while others increased in frequency. The main concern is cost and timing. There has to be a happy medium. I’m actually baffled at the amount of public forums and still no concrete results. On the other hand, a rebirth in some form or another of the B.C. Electric Railway. Using existing rail lines and utilizing a light rapid transit system on a pre-existing rail line seems to be the way to go. At a time when many highways are being ‘upgraded’ to accommodate traffic estimations for the next 20 years, placing tolls on what was once free passage into Vancouver, the idea becomes more clear. A light rapid transit into Vancouver would make economic sense. Too bad millions of taxpayers dollars have already been spent on Highway ‘improvements’. These monies could have been used to implement the LRT system at the same cost with upgrades to the existing infrastructure. At a time when pollution is at an all time high, and gas prices soaring, the time is now for a system that makes sense and gives us a green alternative to our all ready congested highways. Admittedly, if the transit schedule was more appealing and fit my work schedule, I myself would definitely be one to use its services.

 

Stewart McLean: The city and BC Transit have agreed to a one bus conventional and one bus custom expansion in 2012. The conventional expansion will allow a redesign of our route system to increase frequency particularly in the Sardis-Vedder corridor. Chilliwack/Abbotsford and BC Transit have had inital discussions regarding a connectiong bus system, costs and schedule are not yet determined. We are participating in a planning process with BC Transit to determine what the future transit system should look like and the costs and timing of implementation. The final report is expected in the spring of 2012.


Jason Lum: I support investment in sustainable transportation choices! The addition of one more bus next year (already in the budget) triggers our ability to re-work our bus routes.  I look forward to working in partnership with all stakeholders to ensure we can improve current public transit efficiency without increasing the tax burden to residents and businesses who do not have the option of bus travel. Chilliwack is geographically too spread out to rely only on public transit to serve the needs of all citizens. Transportation planning must be holistic, and we should endeavour to build a transportation network in Chilliwack that safely accommodates cars, bikes, and pedestrians without overlooking the commercial, industrial, and agricultural traffic vital to the economy.

 

 

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