VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – The University of British Columbia (UBC) says it’s willing to consider paying for a portion of the cost of extending Millennium Line SkyTrain all the way out to the Point Grey Campus, so long as it doesn’t interfere with academic funding.
The school is suggesting developers could help pay for it, and also floats the idea of an add-on fare to cut down on the cost similar to the YVR extension of the Canada Line.
“The need for improved regional transit connectivity emerged as a key theme during consultations on UBC’s new Strategic Plan and pursuing an accelerated investment in rail rapid transit to campus directly supports the plan’s three themes: collaboration, inclusion and innovation,” the university says in a release.
UBC is looking to other cities for ideas on how to contribute, and adds the contribution could take a number of forms.
“As York University did out in Ontario, could be in the form of land or as Richmond’s doing in developer charges,” explains Vice President of External Relations Philip Steenkamp. “Or if it’s a financial contribution, then it would come from transit-enabled revenue, which would be as a result of the increased development we’d be able to do out here as a result of rapid transit.”
He admits there’s no word on just how much the university would be willing to contribute.
“The current approved extension of the Millennium line to Arbutus is being funded 40 per cent by the federal government, 40 per cent by the provincial government, and 20 per cent by regional partners,” he says. “So UBC would be looking to contribute toward that regional share.
According to Steenkamp, extending the line all the way to the campus would not only benefit the school. “It’s getting increasingly congested in the region, travel times are long, we’ve got a housing affordability crisis here too, and rapid transit would give people access to more affordable housing options. It would reduce commute times by an average of 20 to 25 minutes each way.”
He explains UBC has been consulting extensively with its internal community, which raised these concerns and flagged rapid transit as a priority.
The next step, he says, is to actively make the case that the benefits would extend regionally, and economically. “This would connect UBC throughout the region to other knowledge, innovation and health clusters, and it really would help, we believe, the housing affordability crisis and help British Columbia meet its sustainability goals.”
Steenkamp adds the university will also be speaking with the key partners; TransLink, all levels of government, and the internal as well as external communities at UBC.
“Extending rail rapid transit to UBC is a key component of a regional approach to transit improvement, and directly supports UBC’s Strategic Plan,” UBC president Prof. Santa Ono says in a release. “Enhanced transit connectivity between UBC and the rest of the region will benefit individuals, businesses and organizations across Metro Vancouver.”
“Today’s Board approval of the advocacy strategy enables UBC to advance conversations with senior levels of government, regional partners, and with the UBC community about expediting the project,” he adds.
TransLink open to discussions
Meantime, TransLink says it’s encouraged to see the Board of Directors’ openness to contributing to a project like this.
“We have had success in the past working with private partners, YVR being one of them with the Canada Line,” says the transit authority’s Jill Drews. “But at this time, while we see rapid transit to UBC in the future, that timeline is not set. There are no approved plans for a start of construction or even project scoping on something like this.”
She says TransLink is open to discussions, but adds efforts are currently “directed toward delivering improvements in the 10-Year-Vision.”
“Phase three does have some early scope work for a UBC extension of rapid transit,” she tells NEWS 1130. “It doesn’t include any construction, and it’s something that we need to have approved, and approved plan.”
Drews says the focus right now is getting the investment plan for Phase Two approved.
Willingness to contribute also poses questions
Andy Yan, director of the City Program at SFU, says UBC’s willingness to contribute makes extending the line all the way to the school a real possibility.
“Really, why shouldn’t it go to UBC? And really making that final connection to one of the major job centres in the region.”
However, he admits it also poses some challenges.
“As you build a line out to UBC, where should the stations be? And what kinds of land uses and development possibilities should occur there,” he says. “Of course one of the biggest challenges is how you’re going to pay for it, and what the fare splits might towards the funding of this line.”
Yan says building the line all the way through to Point Grey would mean the extension would cut through what’s already an area with a sizable mid-density type of housing market.
“I think the line is looking at from, basically, [VCC] Clark station connecting up down through Broadway to Arbutus, and I think that line has been effectively funded, if memory serves me right… I think that this does offer an opportunity now that had previously not been there. But then now comes into, I think, the consultations at the extension of the line from Arbutus to UBC.”