TransLink considers aerial gondola to SFU

METRO VANCOUVER -TransLink is thinking of running a gondola up to Simon Fraser University, saying it would free up dozens of buses, save money and potentially carry 3,000 people an hour up Burnaby Mountain.
The transit authority has issued a request for proposals to determine the feasibility of the gondola project, which it said could whisk passengers from the Production Way SkyTrain Station to SFU in just eight minutes, about six minutes less than a typical bus ride up the mountain.
"This could be a green alternative," TransLink spokesman Ken Hardie said. "What we really need to do is have a very serious look at the concept to see if there is a business plan for it."
The proposed 2.6-kilometre tramway — estimated to cost $70 million — would likely be based on the Peak 2 Peak Gondola linking Whistler and Blackcomb mountains.
The project has been pitched by the SFU Community Trust as a reliable means to get students to SFU and residents to the UniverCity community, particularly in the winter months when buses can't make it up the hill.
About 3,000 people live in the area now, with a student population of 25,000, and both are expected to grow substantially in the next 20 years.
The gondola would also serve mountain bikers and tourists, said Gordon Harris, the trust's president and CEO. The gondola would provide faster, reliable and more efficient service, Harris said, while cutting greenhouse gas emissions by taking diesel buses off the mountain.
"There's certainly pressure for transit service, not only by students but by our community," he said.
Hardie said about 25 to 30 buses would be needed to move the same number of people the gondola could carry per hour. "We burn a lot of diesel going up the mountain, and a lot of brake pads going down."
Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan agreed a gondola on Burnaby Mountain would be a "spectacular" tourist attraction, but questioned where TransLink would get the money to build it. The cash-strapped authority is already struggling to maintain existing services and build the long-awaited Evergreen Line, while facing demands for more transit across the region.
TransLink has indicated the gondola could be built as a private-public partnership or P3, but Hardie said it's too early to say how it will be funded or if there is demand for it. The business study proposals for the project are due next month.
Warren Sparks, general manager of Doppelmayr Garaventa Group, which built the Peak 2 Peak, said his company would be interested in building the SFU tramway.
The company has already done a feasibility study on the project, which Sparks said he sees running in a straight line from Production Way to SFU, adjacent to homes along the corridor but not over them. But he said the project hinges on a lot of issues, including how residents feel about the project, land acquisition and funding.
If TransLink does build it, he said, people will use it.
"If the business plan clearly shows the new system would be less expensive than the existing bus system, then I think it would be a no-brainer to build the tramway," Sparks said.
"Without question, if anyone had to choose to ride this thing or ride the bus, they would jump on this thing in a minute."


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