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3 hour commute: Parents in West Van call for return of UBC Express bus service

Students are facing three hour commute times following the loss of the 258 express service
The UBC express bus has been replaced by a journey that doubles the commute time for students.

Aggrieved parents of students at the University of British Columbia continue to urge TransLink to return its suspended 258 express bus, with hundreds signing an online petition in support.

The 40-minute bus linking North and West Vancouver to the campus was suspended in 2021 amid the pandemic, meaning students had to resort to a journey involving a bus transfer downtown when classes resumed.

“These kids are coming home at 8 p.m. at night, five days a week,” said Theodore Malapanis, whose daughter buses to the Point Grey campus each day from their home in West Vancouver.

Malapanis said the journey offered as an alternative by TransLink relies heavily on the buses running perfectly on time, a rare occurrence.

“Now this commute has been blown out to more than an hour, most of the time about an hour and a half, so that ends up being about three hours of these kids just sitting on the bus,” he said.

“It’s ludicrous. It takes away from them, and doesn’t leave them time to do anything at the end of their day, let alone study.”

As a result, Malapanis said parents are feeling the pressure to purchase cars for their children, which brings about issues in itself.

Extra vehicles commuting across the bridge would only worsen an already dire traffic crisis. Teenage students would be facing hefty car insurance costs, and there’s also the matter of heightened contribution to Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions, he said.

“So now it’s either we all buy our kids cars and block the bridge and pollute the environment, or we find a way that we can utilize the transport system in a way that is efficient for them.”

Malapanis’ wife, Tania, said there is a misconception that all who live in West Vancouver are affluent, adding that purchasing a car might not even be feasible for some families.

“What people fail to realize is that there are a lot of renters – like mothers with single kids who are going to UBC – that live in basement suites in West Vancouver, who are paying high rent and can’t afford to buy their kids cars,” she said.

“Tie that in with the housing crisis at UBC and these kids have no other option but to commute.”

A spokeswoman from UBC said, as part of the education facilities long-standing commitment to sustainability through research, education, and innovative programs, it "supports initiatives that promote sustainability and help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions" on their campuses and in the region.

"This includes improvements to transit service that support UBC students, faculty and staff in making sustainable commutes to campus," she said. 

The petition, put together by Malapanis this month and the second of its kind, has amassed over 700 signatures and is already garnering support from local leaders.

West Vancouver Mayor Mark Sager is following in his predecessor's footsteps — former mayor Mary-Ann Booth publicly championed the return of the express bus — and is rallying alongside parents and students in requesting TransLink to reinstate the service.

“I’m very grateful to all of the people who are taking the time to support this, I completely agree with them in that I very, very much want to see a return of that route,” he said.

“We lost it during COVID-19 and that was reasonable, but it’s a vital link for our community that needs to come back.”

Much of the holdup is down to “realigning equipment, staffing and budgets,” he said.

“TransLink, understandably, took a real hit during COVID-19 with the reduction in revenue. I understand why they had to do it at the time, and now it’s just a matter of how quickly we can get the equipment rolling and get the route back.”

A spokesperson from Translink said the current service from West Vancouver to UBC is "within roughly six to 12 minutes of travel time" compared to the service previously provided by Route 258. 

"Routes 250 and 44 are convenient and frequent options for customers and require only one transfer between West Vancouver and UBC. TransLink has increased service on Route 44 to provide more options for customers making the transfer from Route 250."

The spokesperson said the challenge with express services like Route 258 is that they are mostly used by customers in only one direction, while ridership is zero in the other direction.

"For example, buses on Route 258 would often carry passengers to or from UBC and then be empty for the return trip. In 2019, Route 258 was one of the least used routes on the North Shore, serving only 90 customers on an average fall weekday," the spokesperson said. 

"We can serve more passengers by reallocating that service onto other routes that have high ridership in both directions, like routes 44, 250, and 253."

The spokesperson said Translink adjusts its service every quarter based on ridership, demand, and feedback from customers.

This story has been updated to include a response from Translink and UBC. 

Mina Kerr-Lazenby is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.

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