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Time to revive the B-Line in Surrey

Fifteen years ago, BC Transit introduced the first B-Line rapid bus service between UBC and Lougheed Mall. It was eventually joined by the now-defunct 98 B-Line to Richmond and the 97 B-Line to Coquitlam, both in 2001. Since the death of the 98, the brand has slowly entered decline – with the pending completion of the Evergreen Line in 2016, only the original route will survive, though even it is counting its days.

It is, in many ways, a testament to the service’s success that all three routes will become Vancouver transit history. The concept was brilliant: for a modest dollar, introduce fast, frequent, reliable and simple bus service to extend the reach of the rapid transit network. Wrapped around the strong brand of the B-Line, this was a service that, along with SkyTrain or the SeaBus, a layman could, and did, take. The B-Lines were tremendously successful at attracting new riders from their cars and building up ridership along key transport corridors. Many of the B-Line’s original innovations, from modern shelters, to effective signage, to automated stop announcements, are now an everyday feature through the entire transit system.

Thus it is with a heavy heart that the B-Line brand has been left to die a slow and painful death into irrelevancy. For years, TransLink has contemplated upgrading the 135 bus along Hastings and the 41 bus on 41st Ave to B-Line status, but for whatever reason has resisted. Even the long awaited B-Line on King George appears to be eschewing the brand, adopting the moniker of the “399” instead.

Here, TransLink is making a large mistake. The B-Line brand is an incredible marketing tool for both the organization and transit in the region. The name “B-Line” is synonymous with the type of transit many long for: fast, frequent, reliable, and simple. It is hardly surprising that when people ask for better transit, they often request a B-Line for their city.

With the pent up pressure to improve transit in Surrey, along with the concerted investments in the South Fraser area over the past several years, now is the time for TransLink to revive the B-Line brand.

Along Surrey’s two busiest corridors, and obvious routes for future rail transit, are the 502 bus on Fraser and the 321 bus on King George. Most of the features of a B-Line service are already in place along these routes. Both operate throughout the day at high frequencies – the 502 comes every 5 minutes at peaks and every 15 in the afternoon, while the 321 between Newton and Surrey Central goes every 7-8 minutes! With such high frequencies, customers don’t need to worry about planning around a schedule, because another bus will shortly be on its way.

With the new signage coming down the pipeline, no new investments would need to be made here. The City of Surrey has also installed beautiful, modern bus shelters over the past couple years. All the buses now have automated stop announcements, as well as GPS tracking. The only area some money might need to contributed is in the installation of transit priority measures at key choke points during rush hour – perhaps some modified traffic signals or queue jumpers – to help keep the buses on schedule.

Therefore, the most significant aspect of the whole endeavour is just reviving the moribund B-Line name. If the 502 and 321 look like B-Lines and run like B-Lines, we ought to call them B-Lines! In doing so, TransLink, as well as local politicians, would all gain a big reputation boost, as citizens would perceive them to finally be making a large service improvement. Unbeknownst to them, the service has quietly improved over the years. The investments made over the past few years in Surrey have gone generally unnoticed by the public, as there hasn’t been the splashy media announcements that accompany a strong brand like B-Line.

The King George B-Line is expected to be introduced later this year. Let’s scrap the 399 idea, and call it the 96 B-Line; Metro Vancouver’s fourth official B-Line service, promising fast, frequent, reliable, simple rapid transit to the South Fraser area. And once the last major stretch of the Fraser Highway expansion completes in the next year, let’s relaunch the 502 as the 95 B-Line in 2013, along with the 94 B-Line on the expanded Highway 1. While we’re at it, let’s rename the 135 and 41 buses as well.

B-Lines are not just another bus. With the name comes an addition to the maps in our SkyTrains, as well as the maps in our minds. Choice riders, those who may take the SkyTrain into town to avoid traffic, view B-Lines as an extension of that praise worthy system. If the service is already essentially up to the B-Line standard, deliberately choosing not to capitalize on the positive brand that took 15 years to build would simply be boneheaded on TransLink’s part.


  1. Jesse L Hausner

    Well put. Agree 100% with you.

  2. So brilliant. I’m in the 2nd half of my 3rd year at SFU, and yesterday was the first time I ever took the bus to SFU Surrey both ways. I was surprised by how easy it was, I didn’t even realize, as you said, how much bus service has improved!

    Of course there’s still a long way to go, but reviving B-Line branding would be a relatively super cheap way to increase awareness and ridership. The fact that other B-Lines are being replaced are a testament to the idea that even Translink decision makers find them easy to visualize, as a super busy B-Line makes a stronger case for trains/other improved bus routes all around.

  3. Kevin

    I agree with you Paul, the B-Line definitely has a strong brand awareness and would be a welcome addition here in Surrey…

    However, I really don’t like the name “B-Line”. I’d like to see Translink start many new rapid/express bus lines here in the South of Fraser area, but it’d love to see a distinct new branding for them here, I don’t think that it has to necessarily be called a “B-Line”.

    There are other jurisdictions that have chosen better names (IMO) for their express buses. For example: Quebec City has their “Métrobus”, Brampton has their “Züm” Bus, Columbia has a “Megabús”, Johannesburg implemented their famous “Riya Vaya” buses in time for the World Cup- I’d love to see a competition where we could chose a new name for our express buses here in Surrey… Who knows, it might even catch on better than the “B-Line” name.

    Having said that, I do agree that “B-399” would be an improvement over simply “399” for the proposed King George route.

  4. Marvin B

    I think it’s brilliant to revive the name B-Line for rapid bus service. It’s truly a testament to their success that rapid rail transit has replace one service already (98) and about to replace another (97), and talk of rail along Broadway to replace the 99 someday. They draw so many people, they are killed off by their own success. It’s a great way for Translink to get rapid transit into areas without killing the bank first.

    It can have a huge media splash, even mentioning that the previous successes led to rail rapid transit. I can’t see a B-Line through Surrey and out to White Rock being anything other than a huge success.

    I will say that I disagree with labelling buses B-Line that are not rapid bus. You can’t simply change the 41. That bus stops at almost every block. Hardly a B-Line type service. B-Lines have to be in addition to local service. The 135 however is a great candidate for B-Line branding if the frequency is there. If it isn’t there now, it should be. More people along Hastings taking the B-Line, and leaving the local buses less busy for those folks who need them instead of being passed up. Sounds great to me!

  5. Rapid

    Agree 100% that the King George route should be branded as a B-line. Fortunately, this might actually happen: TransLink’s 2012 Supplemental Plan (the gas tax to fund the Evergreen Line) says the route will start in 2012 and refers to it as “King George Boulevard B-line Service”. I hope that means they’re going to stick with that branding!

    Re. the 41, it’s not the 41 that should be rebranded, it’s the 43. The 43 is the limited-stop express service that’s planned to be relabelled the 91 B-line at some point (along with frequency increases, hopefully soon!).