Abbotsford council has nixed plans to develop a long-anticipated regional Fraser Valley Express bus linking the city to Chilliwack and Langley and tying the communities to the Metro Vancouver transit system.
Councillors Henry Braun, Moe Gill and Les Barkman voted against the inter-city bus, and with three other councillors missing from the table, it was enough to park the project.
Abbotsford Mayor Bruce Banman, among others, were baffled by the outcome, especially as, just prior to the vote, council had unanimously passed a motion allowing it opt out of the plan in the future if the proposed costs were too great.
"We had an escape clause," said Banman.
"I'm kind of scratching my head on this one."
Banman intends to use his executive privilege to bring the issue back for reconsideration once more councillors are present.
However, he wasn't sure that it would change the outcome of the original vote.
"I honestly can't say," he said.
The mayor and councillors Patricia Ross and Dave Loewen were in support of the plan.
Councillors John Smith and Bill MacGregor were absent from the meeting, and Coun. Simon Gibson has not been present at council following his election as an MLA.
Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz, also the chair of the Fraser Valley Regional District (FVRD), said Abbotsford council's decision was unexpected, especially as it had unanimously endorsed the project at a recent FVRD board meeting.
"I was very disappointed and surprised," said Gaetz.
However, Banman's proposal to revisit the issue was encouraging, she said.
Gaetz said she understood the reason the project was rejected was because councillors felt they didn't have enough information to support it.
"I'm hopeful that Abbotsford city staff, FRVD staff and BC Transit can give the council the information they need," said Gaetz. "It's imperative we have this service in the Fraser Valley."
The Fraser Valley Express was intended to bridge the transit gap between the communities of Abbotsford and Chilliwack.
The inter-city route would also tie both communities to SkyTrain and other key destinations within the Lower Mainland via the Langley Carvolth Exchange.
Abbotsford has a link to Langley but it currently involves a lengthy trip through Aldergrove.
B.C. transit was slated to pick up 47 per cent of the bill, or $755,800, with Abbotsford and Chilliwack funding the remainder of the $1.68 million tab.
Abbotsford would fund the majority of the regional governments' contribution paying an estimated $588,200, or 64 per cent of the local share.
Chilliwack would pay 36 per cent of the local share, or $333,764.
According to FVRD staff estimates, the cost of the route would work out to a cost of $10.57 per residential property in Abbotsford and $9.07 per property in Chilliwack.
Prior to the Abbotsford council vote, Coun. Braun noted that Langley, part of the Metro Vancouver TransLink system, would be part of the bus route but wasn't contributing to the cost.
He questioned whether the decision for the route was premature.
"I don't want taxpayers of Abbotsford to be paying for something that would be benefiting Langley."
Braun also said he needed more information about the costs and fare box revenue and that Abbotsford and Mission should be looking for efficiencies in their local transit system before undertaking the cost subsidizing of a regional route.
He also questioned whether there was demand for the inter-city service.
"I don't hear taxpayers clamouring for this service," he said.
Coun. Ross said she appreciated the cost recovery concerns but in her 19 years at the council table requests for an inter-city route had been mounting.
A favourable vote didn't lock council into the plan, but it would allow BC Transit and FVRD to obtain more concrete data on costs, ridership and revenue, she said.
"This isn't final approval. It just moves the proposal further down the road," said Ross.
"If we kill it today, we can't get those questions answered."
The route would allow Fraser Valley residents to take transit west into Metro Vancouver and attract people from the Lower Mainland into Abbotsford to frequent area businesses, such as the new Highstreet shopping centre.
Coun. Loewen noted that while he wanted taxpayers to have the "best bang for their buck", he stressed that all cities subsidize transit as well as roads, water and sewer systems and recreation facilities.
Gaetz said riders, particularly students from the University Fraser Valley (UFV), have been petitioning for a link between Chilliwack and Abbotsford for years.
Both communities are home to UFV campuses and transit users from across the Fraser Valley need to attend Abbotsford Regional Hospital.
"[Transit] linkages bring jobs and allow people to travel outside their community to the regional hospital or to go into the big city," she said.
Gaetz said she was hopeful that Abbotsford council would get the data it needed to support the project before the start of UFV's next semester.
"We really want to move this ahead," she said.
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