British Columbia

In Fraser Valley, transit improvements trump ride-hailing for most politicians

The announcement of ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft being approved for business throughout the Lower Mainland made plenty of news in Vancouver — but the reaction in areas where it won't be immediately available was a bit more muted.

An $8B rail line, getting people off highways bigger priorities for local leaders

Transportation infrastructure and challenges can be significantly different in the Fraser Valley Regional District compared to more densely populated parts of the region. (BC Transit)

Ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft being approved for business throughout the Lower Mainland made plenty of news in Vancouver — but in areas where it won't be available at first, the reaction was a bit more muted.

"They'll likely move eastward depending on how successful they are.... We're so geographically spread out here," said Jason Lum, a Chilliwack councillor and chair of the Fraser Valley Regional District (FVRD), echoing the comments of a number of Lower Mainland politicians east of Surrey. 

Around 11 per cent of the Lower Mainland's population is in the FVRD, mostly in Abbotsford and Chilliwack. But the transportation infrastructure and challenges can be significantly different compared to more densely populated parts of the region.

"Ride-hailing very well may become a part of the puzzle in terms of being a viable last-mile alternative," said Lum.

"[But] our focus here ... is building a viable public transit system that is accessible and available for as many people as we can."

'This isn't rocket science'

To the mayor of the largest community in the Fraser Valley, that transit system should include a rail line connecting it to Metro Vancouver. 

"There will be another 800,000 people coming in the next 20 years. This isn't rocket science," said Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun.

"Prices are going to keep rising, so we need some radical action. I think commuter rail from Vancouver to Chilliwack, maybe even out to Hope at some point, is something that all three levels of government need to get serious about."

Braun is scheduling a meeting with Geoff Meggs, Premier John Horgan's chief of staff, to discuss the issue. He admits the idea is very preliminary, but thinks the government will be receptive because of its commitment to transit.

He believes the Fraser Valley has gotten short shrift. 

"They have been talking about spending more money on infrastructure, which I always say is a code word for transit," said Braun.

"But it generally [goes to] just the big cities ... and midsize cities like Abbotsford and and others get left out. But we can solve so many problems if we could just get people off the highway."

While Fraser Valley mayors have long called for an expansion of Highway 1, Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun says he's aware the B.C. government has been prioritizing spending money on transit at the moment. (Steve Lus/CBC)

'Much more than bedroom communities'

Nathan Pachal, a Langley City councillor who writes extensively on transportation issues, agrees that Fraser Valley municipalities should focus less on getting ride-hailing and more on getting people out of individual-use vehicles.

"We can't build our way out of congestion on highways," he said, adding that Braun's initial price estimate of $8 billion for a ride line was reasonable considering other infrastructure projects the province has committed to. 

"The Massey Tunnel, the Port Mann Bridge, the Pattullo, all of those total is close to $8 billion," he said.

"So if we can build three bridges, I'm sure we could build a commuter rail system from Squamish to Chilliwack."

Lum welcomes the conversation around a rail line to the Valley, but said the district is focused on shorter-term projects, such as a planned expansion of the express bus so that it travels from Chilliwack to Lougheed Station, instead of terminating at Carvolth Exchange in Langley Township. 

Urban planning conversations in the Fraser Valley shouldn't be fixated on building bigger links to the big city, Lum said.

"We aspire to be much more than just bedroom communities to Metro Vancouver.

"It's very important to have those regional transportation links, but just as important to focus on building complete communities out here, where people can work, live and play without having to get on a highway." 

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