UBC students and staff who live in West Vancouver say they’re getting left behind by TransLink, as the transit authority is not bringing back the 258 express linking the North Shore to the campus this year.
TransLink suspended service for the bus – which has three departures each morning from Dundarave, Ambleside, Park Royal and Lions Gate Bridge – in 2020 when the pandemic led UBC to move all of its classes online. Students have since learned that TransLink has no plans to bring it back for 2021, which is going to catch a lot of commuters by surprise, as UBC returns to mostly in-person classes.
“School starts next Tuesday. Most people weren't aware [that the bus service isn't coming back],” said student Maya Hind. “It just seems very shady.”
It’s not the first time TransLink has reneged on the route. In 2015, they announced plans to cancel the run, citing high cost and low ridership, but then changed course after lobbying from West Vancouverites.
In her communications with TransLink, Hind said she’s been told the reason for the change this time is that TransLink predicts 50 per cent lower ridership for the 258 than it had in the past. Hind, however, remembers her many commutes differently.
“There were times where it's packed to the point where people can't get on the bus,” she said.
Commuters from West Van will have the option of connecting to other UBC-bound buses downtown, which TransLink estimates should add only 10 to 12 minutes to the trip.
“In a perfect world where all the buses are on time, sure. It happens once in a blue moon,” Hind said, adding that by her estimates the loss of the 258 could turn a 40-minute trip into an 80-minute one.
Having convenient and reliable access to campus via the 258 is a major factor in many North Shore UBC students deciding to live at home, rather than take on the high cost of housing closer to campus, Hind noted.
Hind has launched a petition calling for the return of 258 service, which has netted more than 350 signees so far, among them West Vancouver Mayor Mary-Ann Booth.
Booth wrote to TransLink vice-president Geoff Cross, questioning the assumptions behind the decision and stressing that it will cause hardship for North Shore students.
“I am extremely disappointed that TransLink is pursuing these relatively low cost savings on the backs of North Shore students, who are already disproportionately burdened by financial, service and time pressures. Using the pandemic to justify a change that was attempted in 2015 is particularly dismaying,” her letter states.
Engineering student Kyle Kirkwood said for the short term, he’s resigned to earlier mornings and longer commutes on some days, but it also means he’ll be driving to campus more than he used to, adding more vehicle congestion to the bridge. He too has been taking the matter up with TransLink, West Vancouver MLAs and council.
“It really seems like everyone wants the bus to run except TransLink,” he said.
Apart from signing the petition, Kirkwood is hoping UBC commuters impacted by the change will register their complaints directly via TransLink’s website.
A statement from TransLink issued on Friday suggests no change is coming.
“We are focusing investment on routes with the highest ridership to help keep crowding to a minimum and provide services where it’s most in demand. Route 258 remains suspended because it allows us to put service where it’s needed most, which is on routes we anticipate crowding may occur.
"In 2019, Route 258 was one of the least used routes on the North Shore, serving only 90 customers on an average weekday. To put that in perspective, we have 34 routes that serve the North Shore and Route 258 is 33rd out of 34 in terms of ridership,” the statement reads.
“As always, we will monitor ridership, demand and feedback from customers through the fall as people return to campuses. There are good viable alternative routes available to West Vancouver students to get to UBC, which should be within four to eight minutes of travel time compared to the service provided by route 258. Routes 250 and 44 particularly serve as good alternatives, and we are adding service on Route 44 starting Tuesday to provide timed transfer service with routes 250 and 253.”