Last week, the provincial government and TransLink proudly boasted about the impending arrival of the Hwy 1 Rapid Bus – now named route #555 – with service beginning December 1st. While it’s been long known that the route was slashed from a full service rapid bus to a commuter express service, nobody expected that the route would erase its planned connection in Guildford.
Yes, once again, Surrey gets the shaft. Not only was our promised King George B-Line pushed back to 2013, the praised return of transit to the Port Mann won’t even stop on our doorstep. Rather, the #555 will only have two stops, with the eastern terminus at the new Carvolth Park and Ride near 202 St in Langley, and the western terminus at Braid SkyTrain. This isn’t the route we were promised when the Port Mann project began.
Back then, the route was supposed to include a stop at East Guildford, near the site of the existing Park and Ride. The province specifically built HOV/Transit on and off ramps at the 156 St underpass to accommodate the service.
With the #555, TransLink is requesting Surrey residents from Fraser Heights or Guildford to catch a local bus, such as the 501, head in the opposite direction of their destination (east), and then backtrack on the “rapid bus”.
Here’s why this is a boneheaded decision.
1. Adding a stop is easy. The infrastructure is already built. Diverting off the Highway would add maybe one minute tops to the travel time. They already do this on commuter routes elsewhere, like the 351 in South Surrey/Richmond with stops at the South Surrey Park and Ride, Steveston Highway, and South Delta.
2. You’re skipping half your riders. The only people who would take the #555 as it is planned are north Langley residents. Unless someone from Langley Centre or Brookswood is headed to Lougheed, it is easier and more convenient to take the existing connections on Fraser Highway to the Expo Line and beyond. Frankly, Braid/Lougheed is hardly a major connection for most people.
For east Surrey residents who live in Fraser Heights/Guildford, a local connection to the #555 would be the fastest route to SkyTrain. However, under the current backtracking scenario with reduced daytime frequencies, it’s still easier and more convenient to take a 10 minute ride to Surrey Central and transfer to SkyTrain there. Essentially, all the Surrey riders that might take the #555 under different circumstances will skip out on the route.
3. Langley can’t support the route on its own. When the Golden Ears Bridge opened, TransLink started an express bus route connecting Langley Centre to Maple Meadows over the bridge. It was touted as an alternative to paying the toll. Now, three years later, the #595 only carries an average of 13 people on each bus, only 36% of its capacity. In terms of annual boardings, the #595 ranks 112th out of 221 routes. Each rider costs $5.09 to service.
Let’s compare that to other routes. The popular #502 on Fraser Hwy carries an average of 37 passengers per bus. It ranks 26th for annual boardings among 221 routes. Each passengers costs $2.03. The #321 on King George carries an average of 30 passengers per bus. The route tanks 19th among 221 other buses, and each passenger costs $1.69. Even one of Surrey’s most circuitous routes, the #341, attracts an average load of 26 passengers. It ranks 45th among all routes, and costs $2.33 to service each passenger.
The point is that the #555 as planned won’t even service as many people as the #595, and that route is performing pretty poorly. A simple and easy connection at the 156 St underpass to the already built Guildford Park and Ride would be a cost effective and smart use of resources, ensuring that the infrastructure and bus service we’re all paying for is as useful to commuters as possible. TransLink’s decision to eliminate the connection at East Guildford is shortsighted and should be rethought.