Over one year and 5,500 signatures later, students are eager for bus route to be established
After over a year spent collecting signatures, Students for Sustainability (SFS) finally handed their petition over to the Abbotsford and Chilliwack city councils. While the final total has not been tallied, SFS representative Daan van der Kroon estimates the petition received over 5,500 signatures, possibly as many as 6,000.
On Nov 1, over 25 students and community members packed onto a party bus, donated by Phantom Party Bus, to travel to Chilliwack and meet with Mayor Sharon Gaetz on the Chilliwack North campus to present the petition. After meeting with Gaetz, the bus moved on to Abbotsford, where van der Kroon presented the petition to Abbotsford City Council.
Students and community members on the bus agreed that it was time for a bus link to be put in. “It’s abso-frickin’-loutely ridiculous there’s not already a connector in place,” stated Jhim Burwell, the Communications and Marketing Administrator for the SUS.
In Chilliwack, the bus was greeted by a small group of UFV students and Mayor Gaetz. Van der Kroon explained to the mayor that since many programs are offered on either the Chilliwack campus or the Abbotsford campus, many students have no choice but to commute. A number of Chilliwack students explained to the mayor that they have had to take out student loans because they can afford the cost of a car or tuition – but not both. After the speeches, SFS handed the petition over to Gaetz.
While Gaetz did refer to the petition as a “paper weight,” van der Kroon was optimistic about a future bus link between Abbotsford and Chilliwack. “I don’t see that as a criticism, just a tongue-in-cheek remark,” he stated. “I think the barrier that we’ve broken down is that previously the word on the street, if you will, is that Chilliwack isn’t willing to talk [about transit]. Now they’re talking if the province is talking. Essentially, they’re asking the province to step into the game.”
Gaetz explained that the provincial government provides half the funding that supports transit in Chilliwack, Chilliwack spends $2.1 million a year on transit, and UFV students contribute $34,000-a-year through the U-Pass. The province needs to be willing to support the creation of a bus route between to the two cities for Chilliwack to be able to contribute funding.
After the meeting with Gaetz, the bus headed back to Abbotsford to present the petition at an Abbotsford Council meeting.
The Abbotsford Council was extremely supportive of SFS, and a number of councillors expressed a hope the van der Kroon would one day take a seat on Abbotsford’s City Council. Councillor Patricia Ross, who chairs the Fraser Valley Regional District, asked van der Kroon if he could present the petition to the FRVD. If he was unable to, she offered to do so herself.
Throughout his presentations, van der Kroon emphasized that transit needs to stop being treated as if it is a social service, and be treated more like essential city planning. Council members noted that Abbotsford has matched all increases in funding from the provincial government and will be increasing transit hours next year by 10 per cent.
“Comparatively, [Abbotsford] was way more supportive. They seemed much more willing and ready,” SFS member Devina Rogers stated. “One of the representatives came out to talk to us afterwards.”
Despite the support from Abbotsford’s City Council, the message from Abbotsford was the same as the message from Chilliwack: get support from the provincial government. This will be the next step for SFS.
In 2007, a petition that received a similar number of signatures eventually led to the establishment of a bus route between Abbotsford and Aldergrove. The route began as a pilot route and now runs nine times a day Monday to Friday.
There is currently a Greyhound bus that runs between Abbotsford and Chilliwack for just under $5 for students but no publicly funded transit option.