British Columbia

Transit woes: SFU students renew calls for Burnaby Mountain gondola

Simon Fraser University students, already frustrated by crowded buses to the Burnaby Mountain campus, were especially peeved when the recent snowstorms causes more transit delays.

Proposed 2.7 km gondola to SFU Burnaby would cost $158.5 million, says TransLink

A gondola to SFU is included in the planned projects for TransLink's 10-year vision, but funding for planning and construction is not yet part of any investment plan. (TransLink)

Simon Fraser Univerisity students, already frustrated by crowded buses to the Burnaby Mountain campus, were especially peeved when the recent snowstorms caused more transit delays.

The wintry conditions renewed calls for a gondola service to connect SFU with the SkyTrain's Millennium line to provide an alternative mode of transit up the mountain.

"Last week, five of the seven days … we had snow or campus closures, including transit ... students are being forced out in the middle of their exams for example and being told go find a bus home, good luck," said Colin Fowler, co-founder of the Build the SFU Gondola Facebook group

Fowler says the group is looking for a way to advance the 2.7 kilometre line, which would join Production Way-University SkyTrain station with SFU Town Square and transit loop on Burnaby Mountain. 

According to a 2017 feasibility study prepared for TransLink, the gondola would take 18 months to build and cost $193 million, minus $34.5 million for the buses removed from service.

In comparison, the extension of the SkyTrain from VCC-Clark station to the University of British Columbia is estimated to cost $3.8 billion. 

10 years of study

A gondola, as an alternative to diesel bus service, was first examined in a 2009 feasibility study commissioned by the SFU Community Trust. TransLink then conducted a business case in 2011 and its own feasibility study in 2017.

According to the 2017 report, a gondola would cut travel times by more than half, use less energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and operate in high wind conditions. 

In addition, the operating cost of the gondola would be around $1.4 million less per year than bus operations. 

The 2017 report says TransLink didn't move forward in 2011 because of limited new capital spending for transit. 

Earlier this month, Fowler presented the group's case to the Metro Vancouver Mayor's Council, citing its benefits.

Support from SFU

"The gondola would have increased performance in the snow, it would have better travel times for students," Fowler said. 

The gondola is included in the planned projects for TransLink's 10-year vision, but staff say it needs more development and public consultation before it can be considered for funding and approval by the Mayors' Council.

In 2019, TransLink plans to once again study the business case for the project.

SFU says it's working with TransLink on the gondola and is a proponent of the project. 

"Relatively speaking it's a modest capital cost and results in operating savings and other benefits," said Joanne Curry, vice-president of external relations for SFU.

She says SFU would be willing to contribute land and money to the project, subject to their board of governors approval.


Cory Correia

Associate Producer and Video Journalist

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