TransLink boss tells Maple Ridge bus riders, help is on the way

CEO Kevin Desmond says express line will be connected to Coquitlam SkyTrain by 2019

Ways have to be found so that freight and commuter rail can co-exist

Ways have to be found so that freight and commuter rail can co-exist

Bus riders heard from the boss directly Wednesday that they’re going to get some relief on their trips in and out of out town – in about two years. Work on the long-promised B-line bus service from Maple Ridge to Coquitlam SkyTrain is underway, TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond said during a visit to the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows chamber of commerce.

“We’re in the early planning phase for that now. We’ll be stepping up that planning during the course of the year. That B-Line will be connected by 2019,” Desmond said.

He added that the Lougheed Highway, the route for the B-line, is a complicated corridor, wide with fast traffic, and not pedestrian friendly. TransLink and staff from both cities are now reviewing that route and identifying stops for the express bus service that will have limited stops in order to whisk people as quickly as possible to the rapid transit system.

“We’re really excited to make that happen.”

But at some point there has to be an effort at managing traffic using road pricing or tolls, said Desmond who’s just completed his first year on the job.

“It’s not just about bus service, it’s just not about rail service,” it’s an overall approach at managing capacity.

Chamber president Mike Morden though asked why it’s taking until 2019 to get a B-Line bus service.

Previously, the money wasn’t there, but neither was there the population density or capacity from TransLink.

Desmond said he’s not sure which service people will choose, the B-Line connecting to the SkyTrain in Coquitlam, or the West Coast Express directly into Vancouver.

He added that he was frustrated by the dozens of track delays faced by West Coast Express commuters last fall.

“It’s just really lousy service … for our customers, every day not knowing if they were going to be stuck on the train for an hour or two hours.”

Both Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows mayors complained and service has since improved.

But the CP Railway mainline is a busy line and will only get busier as more freight continues to move to and from Vancouver, Desmond said.

“The reality is that it’s a very crowded right of way. Moving product from the interior is just going to grow.

“I think we need to figure out a way … to make sure that commuter rail has a permanent future on the corridor. And that’s going to take some investment. We’ve got to find ways to ease some of the congestion on the right of way … so that freight and people-moving can co-exist.”

He pointed out that TransLink updates its 30-year plan this year, which could be the time to review the future of the commuter rail service which began in 1995 and still offers only five rush-hour trains into and out of Vancouver.

According to Pitt Meadows Mayor John Becker, that could involve adding an extra track for commuter rail.

Becker said previously that when the city was discussing a rail overpass at Harris Road, another dedicated track was part of the discussion in order to accommodate a separate West Coast Express line.

The B-Line, along with new bus routes to Silver Valley and Albion, are all part of the Phase 1 one of the Mayors’ Plan on regional transportation, approved last year by TransLink.

Maple Ridge Coun. Gordy Robson said Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows and Mission have to start using any opportunities that come to acquire right of ways along the corridor for that purpose in the long term. “Because 20 years from now they’re going to need it.”

Robson said that once the B-line is in service, Maple Ridge will need a parkade at the Haney bus loop to provide a place for park and ride, otherwise parking problems will spread throughout the downtown.

He proposed earlier that the city partner with TransLink in paying for a parkade and said that Desmond would consider a partnership for that.

Desmond said 2016 was a good year for TransLink thanks to the long-delayed roll out of the Compass card, the long-delayed opening of the Evergreen extension of the SkyTrain and the receipt of $4.4 billion (for Phase 2 of the Mayors’ Plan) from the federal and provincial governments.

“There’s a huge thirst to grow and improve the transit system.”

But he added later that transit systems are constantly under the gun to meet demands and there’s never enough money to do that.

Efforts are now focused on Phase 2 of the Mayor’s Plan, following the federal and provincial governments’ recent contributions, which includes extension of the SkyTrain farther west into Vancouver and light rail along Fraser Highway into Surrey and Langley.

The Mayors’ Council launched a Cure Congestion campaign Wednesday to draw attention to TransLink during the B.C. election now underway. The mayors are asking all political parties to support “essential” upgrades to the existing SkyTrain system by helping pay for more rail cars and station upgrades; implement development cost charges to help fund Phase 1; and support continued expansion of the bus and cycling system.