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SFU students back plans for gondola up mountain

Arry Dhillon, a fourth-year Simon Fraser Business student, won't be around to see a gondola if TransLink ever does send one up the mountain.

Arry Dhillon, a fourth-year Simon Fraser Business student, won't be around to see a gondola if TransLink ever does send one up the mountain.

But as a board member of the SFU Student Society, and of the SFU Community Trust, Dhillon thinks it's important to get a reliable form of transportation to the school - and he believes the gondola is the best choice thus far.

The long lineups waiting for buses up Burnaby Mountain is a big issue for students, he said, mentioning the long waits for the No. 145 from Production Way to SFU.

"Normally there's hundreds of students lined up, and it's really hard to get on a bus," he said, adding that a gondola running cars every three to six minutes during peak hours would greatly decrease wait times.

The cut in travel time from 15 minutes to six or seven minutes would also be a great help, Dhillon said.

While the winter weather can be a problem during exam time, he added, the primary benefits would be decreasing wait times and environmental impact.

Environmental students have told him they're interested in cutting greenhouse gases as well, he added.

Dhillon is concerned about the lack of consultation with students, who would be directly affected by the project, because public consultations took place primarily during the summer months.

The Phase 1 pre-consultation last November and December involved the SFU Undergraduate Society, and the undergraduate and graduate societies participated in Phase 2 consultations in May, but only 23 people from those societies attended the meetings.

While he understands that the initial cost is off-putting for some people, the longterm savings would likely be worth the investment, he said.

"It's like ripping off a Band-Aid, but once it's done, you'd have long-term benefits and savings," he said.

Dhillon spoke in favour of the gondola to Burnaby council at Monday night's meeting, also reading a letter from Duncan Wlodarczak, executive director of Sustainable SFU and a SFU alumnus.

Sustainable SFU is a student-run group, paid for by student fees with all students as members, promoting sustainability on campus.

"This definitely is the sort of thing that Sustainable SFU is very supportive of," Wlodarczak said in a phone interview Monday afternoon.

He spoke on behalf of the group's board, saying that decreasing wait and travel times, while insuring the campus is accessible all winter, were major reasons for supporting it.

"Aside from the convenience, the gondola represents a commitment to bettering the local community," he added.

The gondola would improve air quality by reducing greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the amount of diesel-fuelled buses running up and down the mountain all day, he pointed out, adding the group is particularly concerned with climate change issues.

Burnaby council asked a number of questions of Dhillon regarding his role and his knowledge of the gondola project.

Mayor Derek Corrigan thanked him for coming to council, saying the city government always wants to hear from students.

But he pointed out the funding isn't available for the project as of yet, and while the gondola may have potential, it is important to be cautious about moving ahead with it.

TransLink has other priorities at this point, Corrigan added, particularly the Evergreen Line.

TransLink recently compiled its consultation summary report on the gondola project, released on Sept. 12.

The majority of respondents did not think that the gondola was a good solution to solving some of the challenges of traveling to and from Burnaby Mountain.

Of 554 responses, 75 per cent strongly disagreed with the gondola as a solution, while only 15 per cent strongly agreed.

The primary concern for respondents was the cost of the project.

The project's estimated cost is $120 million.

The gondola would run about 40 metres above the ground and tree canopy, over the Forest Grove neighbourhood, according to TransLink. The line would include five towers, up to 70 metres tall, to support the cables. Tower locations have not yet been determined.

TransLink is expected to release its business case on the gondola in the near future.