Mayors' Council looks at advancing Burnaby Mountain gondola planning
The public may soon get its say about a proposal to build a gondola to ferry people up and down Burnaby Mountain.
On Thursday, TransLink’s Mayors’ Council will decide whether to tell staff to continue planning work on a gondola connecting the Production Way SkyTrain station to Simon Fraser University, which includes a public consultation process that would begin this fall.
Burnaby Mayor Mike Hurley said his council supports the proposal in principle, and he will vote in favour of moving it ahead at Mayors’ Council.
“We believe it could be a good project, but there is a bit of work to be done in the community consultation process,” said Hurley.
The idea of a gondola at Burnaby Mountain has been studied for about a decade, with the view of finding a more efficient way of transporting more than 25,000 passengers up and down the hill each day.
Money for planning the project was put aside in the second phase of the transit authority’s 10-year plan for the region. Funding for construction has not been secured.
The mountain is served by four bus routes, one of which runs between Production Way and SFU. Demand on that route is expected to grow by about 60 per cent over the next 20 years, and buses are already near capacity despite operating at high frequency. Passengers are often passed by more than once because buses are full.
A gondola could cut commute times by half and increase capacity.
Three studies considered a variety of ground and aerial technologies, as well as numerous alignments, and concluded that a gondola between Production Way station and SFU town centre and transit exchange was preferred.
A 2017 feasibility study pegged the cost of the route at $197 million in 2020 dollars, with annual maintenance and operating costs of $4.1 million.
It projected that TransLink would be able to reclaim $34.5 million in vehicle replacement expenses for buses removed from service and a 25-year reduction of $89 million in bus operations.
The estimated consumer benefit over 25 years is about $225 million, mostly related to shorter travel times, but also vehicle operating costs, collision reductions, parking costs and vehicle emissions.
It is estimated that the gondola’s ridership would be 2,600 passengers per hour, per direction, and that capacity could be met using 33-passenger cabins arriving less than one minute apart and taking six or seven minutes to complete a one-way trip.
More than 50,000 bus hours would be eliminated annually, and greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced by 7,000 tonnes per year.
In addition to doing public consultation, TransLink staff plan to seek potential funding sources and do further design and technical work. This includes taking into account a 4.3-kilometre L-shaped gondola route between Lake City Way and SFU that Burnaby council proposed in May.
“That, we thought, is another option that could be possible and would likely have less effect on the neighbourhoods and the homes that may be affected by the overhead views from any tram that may be up there,” Hurley said.
In an emailed statement, SFU president Andrew Petter said the school is “strongly supportive” of the gondola proposal, calling it the most effective solution to move people up and down the mountain.
“TransLink studies have already demonstrated that an urban transit gondola would provide better service and is the most cost-effective and environmentally friendly means for meeting Burnaby Mountain’s unique transportation challenges,” he said. “We are hopeful that public consultation will further demonstrate public support for this project, and help to inform the best way to implement a gondola service to Burnaby Mountain.”