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New West council backs Bus Rapid Transit action plan

Fast and reliable: New Westminster supports TransLink’s Bus Rapid Transit action plan
22nd Street SkyTrain
New West council supports a BRT route from the 22nd Street SkyTrain station to the Marine Drive station on the Canada Line.

New Westminster is on board with TransLink’s plan to implement nine “Bus Rapid Transit” corridors in Metro Vancouver.

At Monday’s meeting, council supported in-principle TransLink’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) action plan to advance the provision of fast, reliable, high-quality rapid transit along the Marine Drive/Way corridor from the 22nd Street SkyTrain station to the Marine Drive SkyTrain station on the Canada Line, and in other priority regional corridors that could reduce regional traffic passing through New West.

The motion, approved unanimously by city council, also directed staff to work with TransLink and coordinate with adjacent municipalities toward the planning, design and implementation of Bus Rapid Transit within New Westminster. Council will also ask the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation to prioritize the Marine Drive/Way corridor as a priority BRT project, along with other BRT corridors that reduce regional traffic passing through New Westminster.

According to a staff report, TransLink’s 10-year priorities – known as Access for All – guides the region’s long-range transportation strategy. Implementation of nine Bus Rapid Transit corridors, which would be done in phases as prioritized by the Mayors’ Council, is included in Access for All.

“BRT represents a level of bus service not currently seen in the region, with dedicated lanes over significant distance, advanced transit priority measures to improve speed and reliability, specialized vehicles, and enhanced passenger amenities at stations,” said the report. “Given the short distance over which the proposed route would operate within New Westminster, the potential impacts to the transportation network are expected to be limited. Many of the modifications that may be necessary would likely involve Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure jurisdiction at the north end of Queensborough Bridge.”

Although the 22nd Street station/Marine Drive station route is the only service that directly affects New Westminster, staff stated that other potential BRT routes may reduce regional traffic within New West  by attracting more commuters to use rapid transit. As a result, staff recommended that council support BRT routes that could reduce regional traffic passing through New Westminster, such as Scott Road, King George Highway and Lougheed Highway routes.

Mayor Patrick Johnstone said it's important that the city endorse the Bus Rapid Transit action plan as a step forward, so the region sends a strong message to Ottawa and to Victoria that every city in the Metro Vancouver supports the plan and the region needs funding to make it happen. He said Access for Everyone will address needs for the decade ahead as the as the region continues to grow.

“It’s a very bus-focused plan, and it's Bus Rapid Transit focus,” he said.

According to Johnstone, TransLink does not have the money to build this plan.

“This is a plan for 10 years of growth of the transit system that is, in my opinion, vital and important for the livability of this region,” he told council. “We do not have the money to build it, and there's an ongoing advocacy program from the Mayors’ Council and the board of TransLink to senior governments in order to get the funding required to build this.”

Johnstone said the Mayors’ Council recognizes that overcrowding on buses is coming back. He said transit in Metro Vancouver has had the highest return to pre-COVID numbers of any transit system in North America.

“We recognize we're back to overcrowded conditions like we had in 2019,” he said. “The challenge right now is that the financial model that TransLink has does not allow them to extend service right now in any meaningful way, and that, without a new financial model, we are going to be, in the next couple of years, talking about reducing bus service, not increasing bus service. TransLink's Mayors’ Council sees this as an existential threat to the region, really, if we cannot get public transit service that people expect in this region.”

Coun. Nadine Nakagawa said she’s pleased to support the Bus Rapid Transit action plan and believes it will benefit many community members. She said she’d like TransLink to meet with council to have a conversation about some of the needs in New West, such as incidents of overcrowded buses in some parts of the city.

Johnstone said he would follow up on that request and try to set up an opportunity for someone from TransLink to meet with council to discuss local service levels and its plan for address the transit system