East of Blanca: Nearly all Vancouver mayoral candidates support the UBC subway, but are scant on details

Rapid transit may be coming to the UBC sooner than expected.

The $2.83 billion rapid transit project is currently planned to run underground along the Broadway corridor from Vancouver Community College (VCC) to a new terminal station at Arbutus. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and BC Premier John Horgan reaffirmed their financial commitment to the project last week, but a subway extension connecting Arbutus to UBC remains unconfirmed.

Now, nearly every major mayoral candidate running this fall has signalled their support to stretch the planned Millennium Line extension all the way to campus.

Before his surprise announcement to drop out of the election, former Vision Vancouver mayoral candidate Chief Ian Campbell said that extending the Broadway Subway line to UBC would be his “top transportation priority."

“The Subway needs to go all the way out to UBC so Vancouver’s biggest post-secondary institution connects with the Broadway Corridor, the second biggest jobs hub in the province,” said Campbell in a press release last Tuesday.f

Independent candidate Shauna Sylvester echoed this reasoning.

“Ensuring that students get to school is really important, but there’s also that economic development issue that you’re building and enabling an innovation centre to be linked with the rest of the city,” she said.

She supports extending the planned Broadway Subway line all the way to UBC when work on the Millennium Line extension first begins, not as part of a second phase down the road.

“Once you start to dig, it makes sense to keep going so you’re not looking at a 10-year gap between the first and second phase,” said Sylvester, the former executive director of Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Dialogue.

This past April, UBC’s Board of Governors (BoG) moved to formally support the extension of the subway to campus. To demonstrate their significant interest in this proposal, the university has even offered to contribute land, funding or a combination of resources for the project. UBC has also already begun selecting possible sites for the two proposed stations at its Point Grey campus.

Construction of the Broadway Subway line is slated to begin in 2020 with an expected completion date of 2025. In the BoG’s proposal, the extension to UBC would be completed as part of a second phase to be in service as early as 2028.

At a candidates’ meeting last week in Mount Pleasant, Coalition Vancouver mayoral candidate and former Conservative MP Wai Young said she supports the Broadway Subway line ending at UBC though she didn’t provide further details. At the same meeting, Vancouver First mayoral candidate Fred Harding agreed with Sylvester, saying that the subway line should extend to UBC immediately.

Hector Bremner, a sitting Non-Partisan Association councillor now running under the Yes! Vancouver banner, is also supportive of the UBC extension.

David Chen, Pro Vancouver’s mayoral candidate, couldn’t be reached for comment before publication.

The NPA candidate Ken Sim is somewhat less committed to the subway extension to UBC though he recognizes the university’s need for better transit service.

“I’ve heard people [outside of Vancouver] are spending two hours each way. It’s just nuts,” he said. “Going to UBC is hard enough let alone doing three to four hours of travel time every day.”

Sim noted he is interested in hearing further expert opinion on whether the UBC extension is the best solution for these transportation pressures, “If it makes sense to the university, to the city, and if it makes sense financially, of course, we’ll do it.”

Kennedy Stewart, a former NDP MP who recently stepped down to run as an independent, said he would push for the UBC subway extension if elected but emphasized that there is only so much the city can do.

“No SkyTrain or transit line would ever get built without provincial or federal support,” he said.

While UBC has indicated that the university would contribute to the extension, no funding has been secured from the province or federal government to extend the line past its planned terminus at Arbutus.

“I am very reluctant to stand up and promise to deliver a SkyTrain to UBC because it would basically bankrupt the city if we did it on our own,” explained Stewart. “And that’s the position that all candidates are in regardless of their promises.”