Users of the new Highway 1 express bus service over the Port Mann Bridge won’t be able to board or exit in Surrey as had originally been promised.
The express buses start to roll on Dec. 1 when the bridge officially opens and the announcement for the new #555 route was made by Transportation Minister Mary Polak amid fanfare last Friday in Langley.
But transit advocates in Surrey are angry the promise of a stop near the new dedicated bus/HOV ramps at 156 Street has been quietly dropped.
“It’s definitely a broken promise – an act of fraud, really,” said Daryl Dela Cruz, who lives in Guildford but will now watch as #555 buses going to and from Langley roll by without stopping.
“Taxpayers paid for that HOV ramp,” he said. “But ironically there’s not going to be any buses using the HOV ramp. They’re just going to be bypassing it, they’re not going to stop.”
The 156 Street stop for the express bus service was depicted in the province’s original Gateway program plans on maps, graphics and even a video that shows express buses turning off the freeway in Surrey.
Also promised was a park-and-ride at a 156 Street bus loop but neither the park-and-ride nor the transit exchange has been built.
TransLink spokesman Derek Zabel said that infrastructure was tied to commercial development plans in the area that never advanced. Talks between developers, the City of Surrey, TransLink and the province never got past the conceptual stage and TransLink never formalized any plan for a stop near 156 Street.
Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts said she was never informed the stop at 156 Street had been cancelled.
“That was not the original commitment that was made,” Watts said, adding she campaigned with Langley mayors to save the express bus service on the expectation it would also stop in Surrey.
“There’s no point in bypassing a city of a half a million people,” Watts said. “The residents of Surrey have continued to pay through taxes for all of the infrastructure everywhere else. It’s just not fair when that infrastructure is not completed in Surrey.”
Langley City Mayor Peter Fassbender, vice-chair of the TransLink mayors council, said he knew for some time the service would initially bypass Surrey, adding he will press TransLink to “eventually” add stops there when it gains more funding.
“It’s not never,” he said. “It’s a question of timing and volume and the need for feeder routes that go into it.”
Dela Cruz said it was the province’s responsibility, under the $3.3-billion Port Mann/Highway 1 project, to build the promised transit infrastructure, even though it is TransLink that operates the service.
He said he’ll urge community groups and others to press TransLink to add at least a temporary stop to serve north Surrey even if there’s no proper loop or park-and-ride yet.
The 156 Street stop would serve the busy Guildford retail area and the growing population both there and across the highway in Fraser Heights.
Zabel said a basic stop at the HOV ramps is impossible because the gap in the freeway is too narrow.
An off-interchange bus loop would be needed, he said, but TransLink can’t afford to build it right now.
He said the #509 and #590 routes from Walnut Grove to Surrey Central will use the 156 Street ramps – they currently exit the highway at 160 Street to take 104 Avenue – as will other HOV users.
Zabel said there are plans, currently on hold awaiting funding, to create a second express bus route linking Walnut Grove/Carvolth to the Expo SkyTrain line at Surrey Central Station via 156.
The Highway 1 express buses will be more comfortable highway coaches with high fabric backs, reading lights and luggage racks.
Polak was not available for questions and ministry staff have not yet explained when the decision was made to shelve the 156 Street loop.
It’s not the first disappointment for riders awaiting the new service.
TransLink indicated in September it would downgrade the ExpressBus plan by running it at reduced off-peak frequencies of 30 minutes between buses – instead of every 10 to 15 – due to budget constraints.
It also revealed the route will initially only go as far west as Braid Station in New Westminster, not Lougheed Station as previously planned. The Braid terminus is to move to Lougheed Station as soon as a nearby exit at Government Street is complete later in 2013.
Passengers boarding in Langley at the newly built 670-stall Carvolth park-and-ride are promised a 20-minute trip to Braid Station over the new Port Mann Bridge.
HOV/bus-only dedicated lanes drop down from Highway 1 at 156 Street in Surrey. But a promised transit exchange and park and ride was never built in the treed area visible southeast of the interchange and Highway 1 express buses from Langley will not stop in Surrey.