Date set for Fraser Valley bus-to-SkyTrain connection
New technology to finally address long-running transit challenge for visually impaired riders.
This story has been updated to add information about the Fraser Valley Express route
The era of wondering if you’ve missed your bus will soon be over in the Fraser Valley. Also likely to end? Persistent human rights violations for those with visual impairments. And the need to take two buses to get to a SkyTrain station.
In three weeks, the Fraser Valley Express (Route 66) regional bus will begin running to Lougheed Station in Burnaby, providing local residents with their first direct connection to SkyTrain. BC Transit staff have confirmed the opening date to FVRD staff. The extension has been in the works for years, but was put on hold because of COVID. The FVX bus currently finishes its route at the Carvolth Bus Exchange in Langley, forcing riders to swap buses in order to connect with SkyTrain.
The FVX extension will simplify and speed up transit connections between the valley and Vancouver, Burnaby, Coquitlam, and Surrey. (You can see the bus’s route here.)
Shortly after the extension, BC Transit will finally roll out its NextRide program that will allow riders to track their bus along its route. People will be able to use their phones to see if their bus is on time, running early, or arriving late.
The technology is expected to be installed in April. Because the technology is being rolled out across the region, NextRide will also require the renumbering of routes in the eastern part of the valley to avoid doubled-up numbers.
The technology will have another large benefit for an important subset of riders: those with visual impairments.
Advocates have been fighting for years to get BC transit systems to be more accommodating to blind people who rely upon buses to get around their community. In particular, bus operators have been told they need to ensure stops are audibly announced for riders, so those who can’t visually monitor their progress know when they need to exit their bus. BC Transit has regularly promised to require drivers to audibly declare stops, but call-outs have remained relatively rare, audits have previously found.
That has led to at least one human rights complaint, which concluded with BC Transit paying more than $11,000 to a rider whose stops were not called out. The transit agency has said it has told drivers to call out stops, but a driver representative told this reporter in 2019 that education and training weren’t sufficient.
At the time, the NextRide technology—which also generates on-board stop announcements— was seen as the long-term solution for riders and drivers. Many other BC communities had received the tech by 2019, but Fraser Valley riders have had to wait. Now, though, the technology is being rolled out across the province.
Cowichan Valley got NextRide in January, and it is being installed on buses in Port Alberni and Campbell River this month. It is expected to arrive in the Fraser Valley in April. The entire provincewide roll-out is expected to cost just under $6 million this year.
The federal and provincial governments will cover 90% of that tab, with local governments picking up the remainder.