Skip to main content

Students line up to catch the bus at the UBC bus loop in Vancouver on Monday.Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail

UBC is urging the city to advocate for a rapid-transit line all the way out to the university right away.

Officials say the two-phase system for the Broadway line, which Mayor Gregor Robertson has been pitching, is not workable for them.

UBC has 140,000 people a day coming and going from the campus by transit, with nothing but increases on the horizon. The Broadway B-Line bus service, which currently connects the campus on the western tip of the city peninsula with a Commercial Drive station in east Vancouver, frequently has to pass up people waiting at bus stops during peak hours.

A two-phase rapid-transit line "is just not a solution," said Pascal Spothelfer, the university's vice-president of community partnerships. "Over 50 per cent of our passenger volume coming to UBC is by transit. That's despite the fact that a large number of people are being passed up."

Having a line all the way out to the university will spark even more of a transformation at UBC in how people get there and how the university develops, he said.

"It is a real game-changer, a generational shift."

Mr. Robertson said recently the city is advocating to regional transportation authority TransLink for a first phase along Broadway with a tunnelled SkyTrain to Arbutus – an option everyone knows is going to be expensive.

From there, he said, rapid buses could take people the rest of the way to UBC, and a SkyTrain could be extended to the campus at some undefined point in the future.

The extension was supposed to have come quickly after the Millennium Line was built from Coquitlam to Vancouver in 2001.

But it was moved down the queue after the province pushed for the Canada Line to be built in time for the Olympics.

TransLink is currently reviewing plans for the Broadway extension, along with plans for a light-rail extension for Surrey.

But UBC is saying that it might be better to build one cheaper light-rail line in order to get the whole route covered within TransLink's budget, instead of one expensive SkyTrain for half and then buses for the other half.

"I'd rather see whatever the solution is to be a complete solution," said Mr. Spothelfer.

Mr. Spothelfer said the two-phase solution just moves the problem down the line for the passengers trying to get across town.

"So if a train is full, do we have 20 buses waiting to take them?"

A two-phase approach also guarantees that UBC wouldn't get rapid transit until some long-distant new round of funding, because TransLink typically only takes on a big transit expansion once a decade.

"If we miss this opportunity, it's not like this will come back in the next two years. If a line gets built to Arbutus with no continuation to UBC now, only my grandchildren will get it."

University officials are hoping that they hear a new message from the city as soon as Tuesday, with Vancouver's two top engineers scheduled to give an update on the Broadway-line plans.

The university and city have been in a "very active dialogue" since the mayor made his remarks about a two-phase approach 10 days ago, said Mr. Spothelfer.

UBC has seen its students, staff and faculty shift their commuting patterns dramatically in the past 14 years, going from 77 per cent private-vehicle use to 43 per cent.

About 138,900 transit trips are now made to and from the university on an average weekday.

Mr. Spothelfer pointed out that the university is the province's third-largest employer, with a huge number of commuters. It also has a large number of its medical students and faculty travelling regularly to the growing hospital-and-research precinct near Broadway and Oak, which is about 10 kilometres east of the university.

The mayor's reference to a two-phase solution with buses came as news to the university.

"I was a bit surprised by him bringing up the buses again," said Mr. Spothelfer.

He said he understands the city's priority is serving the density it has along Broadway.

"They're pretty set in what serves their immediate purpose."

But he and others at the university are anxious to prove that serving UBC with good transit sooner rather than later is also in the city's interest.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe