C-TRAN approves Bus Rapid Transit project

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Despite overwhelming opposition by citizens throughout Clark County, the C-TRAN Board of Directors has voted to spend $6.7 million in local money for a rapid transit bus line from downtown Vancouver to Westfield Vancouver Mall.

Bill Ganley, a member of the Battle Ground City Council, voted in favor of BRT, as did Ridgefield Mayor Ron Onslow. Onslow told The Reflector the project doesn’t affect North County residents and won’t increase taxes.

“It’s a Vancouver thing and I think we should be progressive,” Onslow said. “If that’s the direction they want to go, then I think we should support them on that.”

However, Madore sees a different scenario down the road. He believes higher operating and maintenance costs for the BRT buses will be financially unsustainable, prompting C-TRAN officials to increase taxes to pay the bill.

The specially designed BRT buses would increase tire costs by 67 percent while getting lower gas mileage than the current buses, Madore told C-TRAN board members. C-TRAN officials have said the BRT buses would save $878,000 per year, but Madore contends two to six new BRT buses running the route for a year would cost $3.73 million while two to six existing hybrid buses can run the route for a year for $540,000 less.

Madore said that C-TRAN’s estimate of lower costs on the Fourth Plain route is due to cutting the current 11 buses to five or six once BRT is in place, reducing services on Fourth Plain. The other buses will be reassigned to other routes, so there’s no real cost savings, Madore contends.

“Everyone’s been focusing on the capital expenditures to build (the high-speed line), but they don’t have a plan to run it,” Madore said in an interview with The Reflector. “The extra cost for C-TRAN will put them in the same position they were in during 2011 when they came to the voters and said ‘We have to cut core services to the most needy unless you give us another tax hike.’

“They will do that again,’’ Madore added. “The token bus service that Battle Ground has will be going the same way as Tri-Met. C-TRAN is following Tri-Met’s footsteps in every way. Tri-Met used to be one of the best bus services, but they have been pulling back and it has all been funneled into light rail transit.”

Madore added that C-TRAN has not provided adequate documentation of its anticipated savings with BRT.

“It’s a fallacy,” Madore said.

He added that some BRT proponents characterize opponents as anti-transit.

“I am a supporter of fast mass transit and for that reason I cannot see it disintegrate into another Tri-Met,” he said.

On his Facebook page, Madore noted that the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) requires community support to help fund projects such as BRT. Madore said C-TRAN officials are telling the FTA the project has community support, when that’s not the case. He urged citizens to contact FTA to give their input.

While there’s no new tax connected with the BRT project, it took a vote of county residents to avoid that happening. C-TRAN had put a sales tax increase on the ballot for BRT, but it failed. The money the agency will take from its capital reserves comes from sales taxes in all the incorporated cities and the Vancouver Urban Growth Area.

County resident Chuck Miller was among citizens who spoke to the C-TRAN board last week before the vote was taken. He reiterated what others had said, that citizens want to vote on the BRT project before it’s a done deal.

“I might as well have been talking to a brick wall,” Miller said. “It didn’t make any difference what anybody said.” 

Last week’s decision by the C-TRAN board commits more than two-thirds of the agency’s capital reserves to BRT. However, it allows C-TRAN to get $38 million more in an FTA  grant for the Fourth Plain project, which is estimated to cost $53 million.

“Fourth Plain is by far our busiest transit corridor, and bus rapid transit will significantly improve service reliability for existing riders, while attracting new riders well into the future,” C-TRAN Executive Director and CEO Jeff Hamm said in a news release.

C-Tran spokesman Jim Quintana said the Fourth Plain line has been plagued by longer and unpredictable travel times and delays in recent years. The BRT line, anticipated to begin service in summer 2016, will operate at 10-minute frequencies during peak periods on weekdays and 15-minute frequencies during non-peak hours, he said.

The articulated buses will be longer than those currently running on Fourth Plain and each one can accommodate about twice the number of riders – a total of 60 to 80 seats compared to the current buses’ 35 to 42 seats, Quintana said.

Travel time will be cut, in part, because riders in wheelchairs will be able to roll onto the sidewalk from a lower floor. Currently, a lift on the buses must be activated for wheelchairs to negotiate the coach’s high floor with steps leading to the sidewalk. The bus drivers must leave the wheel to secure the lift each time passengers depart, Quintana said.

Bus Rapid Transit

What: A rapid transit bus line on Fourth Plain Boulevard between downtown Vancouver and Westfield Vancouver Mall.

Why: C-TRAN officials say it will provide faster, more predictable bus service to ease traffic congestion and bus overcrowding.

Cost: About $53 million, with C-TRAN contributing $6.7 million.

Start date: Officials estimate it will open during summer 2016.

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