The decision by Abbotsford city council to reject a proposed Fraser Valley express bus is a blow to regional transportation planning and must be reviewed.
The proposal, put forth by BC Transit, and already supported by the Fraser Valley Regional District and the City of Chilliwack, would create a transit link between Chilliwack, Abbotsford and Langley. It would provide reliable and economical connectivity in a region that currently has none. It would provide transit users access, not only to other major centres in the eastern Fraser Valley, but also access to the Translink system – including SkyTrain.
That there is an appetite for the service should be obvious. The shuttle bus recently organized by students at the University of the Fraser Valley is already logging 1,400 passenger trips between the two campuses every week.
The service also enjoys the support of the FVRD, including Abbotsford Mayor Bruce Banman. At the district’s board meeting last month, Banman said he was excited about the proposed service. “I think it’s been that missing link that the public has been asking for for a long, long time,” he said.
Chilliwack city council agreed, and unanimously supported the proposal.
So it is puzzling that Abbotsford city council could not gather the requisite support.
True, the bus is not free; it will cost almost $1.7 million annually, with Abbotsford paying roughly $559,000. And with an election year looming, it is perhaps understandable that some on Abbotsford council are reluctant to incur additional costs (especially when that city continues subsidize its hockey team by $1.5 million each year).
Nonetheless, this is not just about spending money; it’s about investing in regional infrastructure. It’s about facilitating economic growth and providing economic opportunities – all while taking vehicles off the road. And it’s about creating a pattern of transit use that could eventually provide the justification for an expanded express service, or even light rail.
Mayor Banman has said he’ll be bringing the issue back to Abbotsford council. Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz said she remains optimistic.
Let’s hope that confidence is justified. Continued transit improvements in the region cannot be derailed by short-sighted parochialism.