SFU administration revisits plan to build gondola

The gondola could help students by saving them time and help the environment.

SFU president Andrew Petter re-opened the concept of a gondola on Burnaby Mountain during a Q&A at the Burnaby Board of Trade AGM on June 14.The proposed SFU gondola would run between Production Station and SFU.

Despite the project’s projected environmental, economic, and social benefits, the $120-million plan was ultimately excluded from the $7.5 billion 2014 Regional Transportation Investment plan by the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation.

The Tri-City News reported that Petter said the “business case developed for TransLink shows the aerial link to be be an efficient and reliable alternative to conventional buses, with the economic and social benefits far outweighing the costs.”

Petter also mentioned the “significant” advantages to this proposal. The Mayors’ Council noted this would remove the more than 20,000 bus trips up and down Burnaby Mountain every day, as the Tri-City News reported. That number is expected to increase 60 percent over the next two decades.

The president also drew comparisons with Metro Vancouver’s SeaBus system, which went from being considered a pleasant addition to a “‘need to have’ component of our regional transit system,” reported the Tri-City News.

Engineering consultants CH2M Hill produced a business report in 2011 on the SFU Gondola, which said that the plan has a 3.6 total benefit-cost ratio in dollar terms.

The report found that annually, there are more than four million bus trips per year to and from SFU, and this number could double by 2021. The gondola would save “500,000 annual hours of auto travel time,” result in “26.1–29.2 million fewer vehicle kilometres,” and eliminate roughly 7,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.

The report also made note of “poor travel times and low reliability in the winter.” Students reported waiting at Production Station and other stops up to 30 minutes for a bus. Poor travel times could discourage public transit and encourage automobile use.

The federal government recently announced $740 million in transit funding for Metro Vancouver. Unfortunately, “the [SFU] gondola didn’t make it in the mayors’ 10-year vision,” said Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson. He added that the SkyTrain extensions to UBC and Port Coquitlam are also priority projects.

There have been times when students have become stranded at SFU in the winter when buses were unable to make the trip. A gondola would eliminate this problem, says SFU urban studies professor Anthony Perl, who said “SFU is still not accessible year-round.

“One hundred twenty million [dollars] might seem like a lot to students . . . but to the provincial government it’s not,” said Perl, adding it is a “fraction of the cost” of the Evergreen Line and UBC’s proposal. “You can get a lot of results from a relatively low capital investment . . . [the gondola] is a real value deal.”

When asked why the project didn’t go forward, Perl noted that it was never an “either/or decision” between the gondola and the Evergreen Line or UBC. They’re separate pieces of infrastructure, and “formally, no level of government opposed [the gondola . . .] it simply wasn’t put forward as a priority.”

This reflects the history with rapid public transit in Metro Vancouver, said Perl. “Everyone’s for it in principle,” he said, but the government would “rather build big bridges and expand highways.”

Perl noted the real attraction should be that “it’s fossil fuel-free.” It would run on electricity and eliminate the need for diesel buses.

He claimed that, when you look at the billions of dollars spent on highway and bridge improvements, it “tells you something about the [BC Government’s] priorities,” adding that BC was once a climate leader, but has now become a “climate laggard.”

SFU students, Perl said, should support the project because it would benefit them greatly. He advised contacting MLAs and the BC Climate Action Centre through email, or social media to “let the government know that this is a priority.”

He suggested students share their personal transit horror stories to highlight woes with the current transit system.