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Letter to the Editor: The time has come for better transit in the Valley

On November 1, Students for Sustainability and the UFV Student Union Society presented a petition of over 5,500 names to local decision makers in Chilliwack and Abbotsford. This petition calls for the implementation of public transportation service between Abbotsford and Chilliwack to provide an alternative to a private vehicle for the 17,300 trips that leave Chilliwack destined for Abbotsford daily, and the 14,800 trips that leave Abbotsford destined for Chilliwack daily.

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On November 1, Students for Sustainability and the UFV Student Union Society presented a petition of over 5,500 names to local decision makers in Chilliwack and Abbotsford. This petition calls for the implementation of public transportation service between Abbotsford and Chilliwack to provide an alternative to a private vehicle for the 17,300 trips that leave Chilliwack destined for Abbotsford daily, and the 14,800 trips that leave Abbotsford destined for Chilliwack daily.

In the Fall of 2008, UFV students approved by referendum a U-PASS program that put an unlimited bus pass in the hands of every student at a time when transit ridership was poor, and predominantly empty buses often came to and left the campus with hardly any riders. Now, at the one year anniversary of the U-PASS program, it is common for buses coming and going from the campus to be standing room only. Simply reducing the fee per semester by a mere $45 was enough to convince enough students that using public transit to arrive at the campus was a realistic and efficient option.

Here is an example of public transportation working to take cars off the road while staving off congestion, air pollution, and expensive automobile costs – Smart Growth beginning to happen. But in the Fraser Valley, resident’s hands are still tied, as the thousands of people who commute between Chilliwack and Abbotsford everyday still have only the Greyhound bus for mass transit options – an impractical alternative at best for this short commute.

In fact, this situation is contrary to the principle on which public transportation is organized – that there be a public transit alternative to every private vehicle trip. This is the rationale that sees our local transit agencies striving to provide equal access to everybody in the community – a process that results in effective service for almost nobody. If transit agencies would focus on providing service where there is demand, or at the least, potential demand in the form of high trip counts, then the public might get some bang for their public transit buck. As it is, we provide everybody with equally ineffective service, ensuring that nobody will use it, instead of providing effective service where there are high trip counts, at least creating the possibility of a return on investment.

The SFS 5,500 person petition – over 1000 of which can be viewed at www.thepetitionsite.com/1/chilliwackabbotsfordconnection – shows that many students and citizens are in favor. UFV President Mark Evered is a strong supporter, going so far as to say that the UFV model of three disjunct campuses won’t work until the transportation problem is addressed. The mayors of Abbotsford and Chilliwack both say the only thing they are waiting for is the provincial government to step up, so what are our political representatives waiting for? There is a whisper now of Rapid Bus technology being implemented for this region, but don’t believe everything you hear. How long did it take for the Tri-Cities to get a solid commitment to build the Evergreen Line? How long have people been talking excitedly about South Fraser Passenger Rail? Let’s just get a nice city Nova bus on the road with Park ‘n Ride lots or good connections to transit exchanges and the University campuses without all the frills and gimmicks Rapid Bus is bound to involve – let’s meet a basic need before we create a deluxe service.

Creating a Chilliwack-Abbotsford connector doesn’t require additional investment in public transit, though that is certainly warranted. All it requires is a willingness on the part of councils in Abbotsford and Chilliwack to pick up the phone and decide together to allocate resources to where they are needed. UFV students are doing their part by using public transit and paying for transit improvements that everybody benefits from through their U-PASS.

Now it’s time for our governments to stop creating congestion and urban sprawl and build some public transit that actually works.

Daniel van der Kroon

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