Implications of the new Fraser Valley express bus are just starting to sink in for Chilliwack.
It means Chilliwack residents will be able to board a bus heading for Langley, and continue on to Vancouver should they choose, starting in early 2015.
Chilliwack resident Michelle Creedy said the news about a new transit option will change her life.
“It means that I can now look for jobs in other communities and not have to worry about relocating because I’m blind and can’t drive,” Creedy told the Progress. “It means that I’ll be able to go into the city and volunteer at Canuck Place or any other place I want to.”
Abbotsford mayor Bruce Banman used his executive privilege recently to bring back the express bus issue for reconsideration at the council level, and it passed, after being voted down the first time around.
Transit riders will be able to get to points west from the Carvolth transit exchange in Langley.
“It opens up my world in a way that is so freeing,” said Creedy. “I’ve always felt very stuck in Chilliwack and the job market here for blind people isn’t that great but I enjoy living out here.”
As a reporter for Accessible Media, she actually missed out on work this week because the Greyhound was so late getting to Chilliwack that she missed her appointments.
Chilliwack has been on-board since the idea was first discussed, said Mayor Sharon Gaetz.
The clear benefits of the route from Chilliwack’s perspective include: providing alternatives to driving; establishing links and access for thousands of UFV students travelling between campuses; and the chance to have incoming visitors from other communities into Chilliwack.
“It’s something our constituents have been asking for for a very long time,” said Gaetz. “I can’t tell you how excited I am that it is happening. I only wish the vote had been unanimous in Abbotsford.”
Advantages will be increased accessibility for those with mobility challenges or who do not drive, as well as the environmental impact of reducing the number of vehicles on the road thereby cutting emissions and greenhouse gases, she noted.
The bus fare for the new Fraser Valley Express has yet to be determined.
“The biggest concern I’ve heard so far is the cost of the new service. Rest assured that is something we are negotiating and working on. It’s in our best interests to make this affordable,” Gaetz said.
Different fare scenarios are being considered with the mid-range option at about $7 for a one-way fare, she said.
From an economic development point of view, the new bus service will be one more advantage to offer businesses and employers seeking to relocate, said CEPCO president Brian Coombes.
“From the perspective of CEPCO, it will definitely have a positive impact,” he said.
“Increasingly people looking for a community to call home want both an accessible and a livable community, and transit is a part of that. They look for factors like these that will appeal to their workforce.”
Chilliwack is already livable, Coombes said, and the new regional bus makes it even more so. It also enhances the expanded transit system within Chilliwack itself.
“If you look at it as a package, there are lots of improvements.”
The implications for tourism bode well. As the former head of Tourism Chilliwack, he said he can attest to the calls they would field from people wanting to see all the beauty the area has to offer.
“For the tourists in Vancouver and beyond who would like to come into Chilliwack and the Fraser Valley, this provides a scheduled public transit option for them,” he said.
The Abbotsford council approval came on the heels of earlier votes in favour by Chilliwack and the Fraser Valley Regional District, for a long-awaited express route through the valley.
There are many benefits stacking up.
It will also mean better access to regional health services in other communities as well as the justice system with the law courts in Abbotsford, Gaetz noted.
The Fraser Valley Express will have a fleet of six buses, with an estimated ridership of 137,000, and a cost of about $1.5 million. Chilliwack’s share will be $300,000, Abbotsford will pay $500,000 and BC Transit $700,000.