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Opinion: Burnaby Mountain gondola is the solution, not electric buses

SFU student society speaks out in support of project
Rendering of the proposed Burnaby Mountain gondola

The pandemic has been a long, hard slog for post-secondary students. But now that we are back on campus, there is a renewed sense of optimism in the air.

As tough as it’s been, and as much road as there is still left to travel before COVID-19 is behind us, students, like most everyone else, are beginning to look towards a more hopeful future. 

Of all the lessons learned over the last 18 months – and there are many – surely one of the most profound is what COVID-19 taught us about the power of collective action. If we can come together to overcome a pandemic, we can do the same to tackle some of the other enormous challenges our generation faces, from growing social and economic inequities to the real threat of the climate crisis. The scale of these challenges can seem overwhelming. But we have seen, first-hand, how individual choices and community-level decisions can make a big difference across our society.

In Burnaby, we are faced with just such a community-level decision that could have a big and positive impact on the wider community. After years of analysis and consideration, decision makers will soon weigh in on whether to build the Burnaby Mountain gondola. For those new to the discussion, the Burnaby Mountain gondola is a long-term fix to SFU’s persistent transit challenges.

The gondola, similar to those used for mass transit in cities around the world, would provide fast, frequent and reliable service between SkyTrain and Burnaby Mountain for the 25,000 daily trips made by SFU students and the wider community. 

SFU students, as you can imagine, are very excited about the proposal. A gondola will have a huge impact on our quality of life. If you have ever used transit to travel to SFU, you will know why. The diesel buses that lumber their way up Burnaby Mountain from the Production Way SkyTrain station are on one of the worst performing transit routes in the Lower Mainland. They’re overcrowded, they’re unreliable, and when it snows, they often leave passengers stranded in the wet and cold. 

Replacing the diesel buses with electric buses will not solve the issue of over-crowdedness and reliability, now or ever – as the community grows, more people will continue to drive rather than transit. By cutting travel times and greatly improving reliability and service, the Burnaby Mountain gondola will make getting a university education just a little easier for thousands upon thousands of students who travel long distances between school, home and work.

Before the pandemic hit and our campus emptied, SFU students were actively engaged in a campaign to build support for the gondola.

We held open houses, met with local councillors and provincial MLAs, gathered signatures of support, forged alliances with community and business organizations and lobbied TransLink. 

We found strong support from organizations like the Vancouver and Burnaby Boards of Trade, trade unions, environmental groups, locally owned small businesses and non-profits.

Indeed, TransLink surveyed more than 20,000 people and found an overwhelming 84% of respondents supported the project.

Now that SFU has re-opened, the case for the Burnaby Mountain gondola looks even stronger than before. We know the post-pandemic economy is going to require even stronger access to a post-secondary education.

The Burnaby Mountain gondola will help facilitate SFU’s growth long into the future. We know that as the world moves to a zero emissions future, mass transit will become an even more important part of the solution to climate crisis. The Burnaby Mountain gondola will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 5,700 tonnes a year and encourage more people to switch to mass transit reducing congestion on our roads. And with so many competing priorities for limited public funding, the Burnaby Mountain gondola will cost thirty per cent less to maintain than the current bus service but provide us capacity to move people well into the future. 

In short, the Burnaby Mountain gondola is a reliable, environmentally friendly, and cost-effective mass transit solution that will make life better for the entire community, facilitate SFU’s growth, and make it just a little easier for hard-working students to complete their education. It’s just the kind of forward-looking project we need to invest in the future of this community. And it’s why SFU students, together with so many others from across our region, are excited about the proposal and determined to see it through. Let’s hope the decision makers on Burnaby council and throughout the region share our optimism. And let’s hope they join us and support the Burnaby Mountain gondola and realize the power of collective action.

Gabe Liosis is president of the Simon Fraser Student Society.