COLUMN: Shuttle need regrettable

Kwantlen Polytechnic University students have voted 65 per cent in favour of the U-Pass, but with a major wrinkle.

In addition to the $40-per-month pass which will give them unlimited access to public transit, they will also be able to board a shuttle service specifically for Kwantlen students, which will run between the university’s four campuses.

The fact that a separate shuttle service is needed to get students efficiently between the campuses in Newton, Cloverdale, Richmond and Langley shows just how unreliable the transit system is south of the Fraser River.

Kwantlen students demonstrated this perfectly last summer, when in a well-publicized test, three students made the trip between the Newton and Langley campuses. One cycled; one took the bus and the third ran between the two campuses.

Not surprisingly, the cyclist came first – making the trip in 59 minutes.

The runner, however, came second, taking one hour and six minutes. He is an experienced distance runner.

It took the bus rider an hour and 19 minutes to make the trip between the two campuses, which would probably take less than half an hour by car.

The new U-Pass service for Kwantlen students will begin in May, and the shuttle bus between campuses is expected to be in operation by September. Kwantlen Student Association spokesman Nathan Griffiths says access to both transit and the shuttle bus will “revolutionize the culture on campus,” and he’s certainly right about that.

If Kwantlen students can actually rely on getting between campuses in a reasonable amount of time, far more of them will not have to rely on cars any more.

It’s surprising that it has taken this many years to come up with a shuttle service.

I attended Kwantlen’s predecessor Douglas College in the early 1970s, and even then getting between the three campuses in Surrey, Richmond and New Westminster was a significant challenge for many students. All science labs were in Richmond, for example, even if the classes were in Surrey.

And in those days, Surrey had no transit service of any kind, although Richmond and New Westminster did. The challenges Kwantlen students face are the same as those faced by all residents south of the Fraser.

These problems have been so long-lasting that Delta Mayor Lois Jackson is now talking about somehow getting out of TransLink, as it simply does not serve Delta, Surrey, White Rock and Langley adequately.

While top officials at TransLink are well aware of the service inequities, the lack of sustained funding to expand the system makes it very hard to improve services south of the Fraser, except in tiny baby steps.

While this is better than the alternative of doing nothing, it does little to encourage people to use transit, and as a result, the roads in Surrey and other South Fraser communities become more congested each year, as the population continues to grow.

The whole issue of TransLink funding has been shoved onto the back burner due to the Liberal leadership race. However, just before he resigned last fall, Premier Gordon Campbell did agree to have the province take a good look at all possible sources of funding, including the carbon tax, with the goal of giving TransLink ongoing access to other sources of taxation.

If his successor follows through on that pledge, and works with TransLink to come up with more ways of paying for meaningful transit expansion, Kwantlen students may find their U-Passes are a whole lot more useful, and far more South Fraser residents will be using the transit system in the future.

That seems to be a worthwhile goal, both for the sake of the environment and livability, and as a practical alternative to simply building more roads and bridges.

Frank Bucholtz writes Fridays for the Peace Arch News. He is the editor of the Langley Times.

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