Fraser Valley bus-to-SkyTrain connection delayed by driver shortage
The Fraser Valley's connection to SkyTrain has been put on hold yet again, but future plans could see increased bus service across the region.
Bus driver shortages are increasingly straining transit service in the Fraser Valley, and have now led to the delay of the much-anticipated (and already delayed) bus connection with SkyTrain.
Across the Fraser Valley, a lack of drivers led to the cancellation of more than 500 hours worth of bus service in September alone, according to a report that will be presented to local politicians next week. More than 4% of all promised bus trips never occurred due to shortages, a share far above normal. Complaints have also escalated, according to the report.
The good news is that the worst appears to have passed, with cancellations declining in October. But the fall-out of a lack of qualified bus drivers has now led BC Transit to push back the start date for the expansion of the Fraser Valley Express. The popular regional bus was originally set to begin running to Lougheed SkyTrain station 11 months ago, but the pandemic delayed the expansion by a year. (The FVX route currently ends at the Langley Carvolth bus exchange. Those wanting to continue to downtown Vancouver have to take another bus to get to a nearby SkyTrain station.)
After the pandemic-caused delay, BC Transit had intended to extend the bus to Lougheed station in January, two months from now. But the expansion requires drivers for four new buses. So now the plan is to push back the expansion to March “to allow for the hiring and training of more qualified operators,” the report said.
A new regional bus between Langley and Abbotsford?
Although those delays may bring short-term pain, there is also new reason for optimism among Fraser Valley residents looking to take the bus to Langley and beyond. Although SkyTrain may not be coming to Abbotsford anytime soon, its pending 2028 arrival in Langley has sparked discussions among politicians and transit planners about a possible second inter-regional route to enable Fraser Valley residents to more easily hop on a train into Vancouver.
“As the Langley SkyTrain extension moves forward, a regional connection between Abbotsford and City of Langley along the Fraser Highway needs to be considered,” FVRD staff wrote in one of a series of transit reports to be presented next week. Such a bus would run from Abbotsford to Langley’s easternmost SkyTrain station, at 203 Street.
Translink’s new Transport 2050 Plan suggests the need for “express service” along both Highway 1 and Fraser Highway.
Even before 2028, the hope is to dramatically ramp up the capacity of the regional system, with buses every 15 minutes during weekdays, and improved weekend service. Other work will include taking a closer look at regional bus service to Mission, as well as possibly expanding bus service between Mission and Kent.
But the most optimistic plans aren’t set in stone. Staff caution that ridership demands will affect how a regional bus system develops (and how much such a system will cost).
The goals are ambitious. In 2019, the regional system provided about 250,000 rides over the course of the year. By 2040, the most aggressive possible plan and scenario envisions 10 times those ridership levels. That possibility could see double-decker buses carrying more than 7,000 people each day along a widened Highway 1 (or a widened Fraser Highway).
That, at least, is the plan. As the pandemic and subsequent driver shortages have shown, not all buses arrive on time.