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SFU students want Burnaby Mountain gondola in mayors' transportation plan

SFU students are disappointed Metro Vancouver mayors left the Burnaby Mountain gondola out of the10-year $7.5 billion regional transit plan they approved last week.
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SFU students are disappointed Metro Vancouver mayors left the Burnaby Mountain gondola out of the10-year $7.5 billion regional transit plan they approved last week.

“There’s a lot of competing projects, but given that this project is such a high benefit, we were quite shocked,” SFU Student Society president Chardaye Bueckert told the NOW.  “They seem to have ignored the business case that was prepared in 2011 by Translink, which said essentially that this project should be built; it had such a high benefit ratio.”

The $120 million gondola – which planners say should be slung between the Production Way-University SkyTrain station and SFU – would bring $3.60 worth of benefits (in the form of savings on travel time, vehicle kilometres, auto operating costs, collision costs and carbon emissions) for every $1 spent, according to the Translink report.

And it would cut travel time up the mountain in half.

The SFU Student Society, Graduate Student Society and Sustainable SFU, which represent a combined 30,000 students, had pressed metro mayors to include the project in their new plan.

“At this point we are just calling to have them reconsider that – the provincial government as well as the mayors,” Bueckert said.

She said a gondola would liberate 32 buses during a single peak hour, which could feed the 11 new B-line routes proposed in the new transportation plan.

“It seems really complementary,” Bueckert said.

But the students will get little support from Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan.

He was the only member of the mayors’ council on regional transportation to vote against the new transit plan approved last week, saying it was too expensive.

"It was a wish list, an attempt to get support around the region by promising everybody everything,” Corrigan told the NOW. “I wanted a more realistic, more focused plan. If you keep adding items to a wish list then pretty soon it becomes so unrealistic that no one ever believes it will be done."

Corrigan said adding the gondola isn’t the way to go given the current economic climate.

"I don't think that the gondola at this point is necessarily supportable as a priority capital expenditure,” he said. “There's a lot of arguments being made about the gondola being more environmentally sound than the buses are, and I think there's merit to that argument, but when it comes to financial, the argument on it didn't work."

The plan to string a gondola up Burnaby Mountain 40 metres above the ground between five towers up to 70 metres tall garnered a lot of attention in 2011, when residents of Forest Grove, a neighbourhood along the proposed route, complained the project was being “leapfrogged through” by TransLink.

At an open house one resident called the plan a “Whistler-style freak show” that would destroy the peaceful feel of the neighbourhood.

By January 2012, however, TransLink reported that – while it still considered the gondola the best solution for upgrading transit service on the mountain – the project was not a priority while the transportation authority was completing other projects it had already committed to, like the Evergreen Line.

TransLink’s study also found the gondola would cost closer to $120 million than the $50 million projected in an earlier feasibility study.

Students at SFU, however, have continued to promote the plan, organizing the “We Like It On Top” social media contest last spring to raise awareness about the gondola’s potential benefits.