Ditch Surrey LRT, TransLink urged

Light rail transit expansion plan flawed, SkyTrain advocate tells TransLink directors

An advocate for SkyTrain has urged TransLink’s board to reject the City of Surrey’s choice of light trail trains over other rapid transit expansion alternatives.

Daryl Dela Cruz told TransLink directors light rail (LRT) would bring almost no improvement in frequency over the express bus service that already exists between Guildford and Surrey Central station, a trip he tested recently.

“It took me seven minutes – three minutes faster than what the LRT is supposed to take according to the City of Surrey’s website,” Dela Cruz told TransLink directors Dec. 9.

“What’s the point?” he asked, adding LRT will mean the loss of traffic lanes on 104 Avenue, with more congestion, less transit ridership, and slower growth around stations.

The $2-billion-plus plan for Surrey light rail lines – an ‘L’ line that runs on King George Boulevard and 104 Avenue plus a Fraser Highway line that runs from the SkyTrain terminus to Langley City – has been stuck since the defeat of the regional sales tax referendum last summer.

But hopes have grown that more generous federal infrastructure grants could come from Ottawa, opening the door to a new cost-sharing deal between area mayors and the province without another vote.

Dela Cruz argues it’s time to switch the plan to one of the alternatives TransLink previously studied – extending SkyTrain along Fraser Highway to Langley and running bus rapid transit (BRT) on the King George and 104 corridors instead of light rail.

The costs would be similar, but TransLink’s own study of the options indicates the SkyTrain/BRT system would be more heavily used, generating the “most quantifiable transportation benefits.” It would take 22 minutes to ride the Fraser Highway SkyTrain segment, compared to 29 minutes with light rail, which would also require a transfer to continue on SkyTrain.

Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner argues light rail is essential to shape the future development of the city.

But Dela Cruz argues that’s not a good enough reason to build an inferior system.

“A slow street-level LRT with more stops and few time savings will not attract high ridership and will fall short in every aspect,” he predicted, adding it would also create “huge risks” from running trains at the same level as pedestrians and vehicles.

Dela Cruz said an operating deficit between what LRT would generate in revenue and its costs is equivalent to 40 per cent of the cost of running buses south of the Fraser, raising concern LRT may force transit cuts.

“We’re going to have to cannibalize the rest of the City of Surrey’s buses just to make financial room for it.”

The regional mayors’ council supported Surrey’s choice of LRT when it crafted the transit expansion plan that went to referendum this year.

TransLink officials said they’re working towards a deadline of next March to complete a business case for both the Surrey and Broadway line projects to maintain eligibility for federal P3 grant funding.

That work includes updates to the capital costs, operating costs and revenue estimates so there can be confidence they’re accurate to within 15 per cent, said Fred Cumming, TransLink vice-president of engineering and infrastructure management.

“March is a very aggressive date,” he said. “But when the funding is secured we’ll be ready to go.”

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