Judging by the results of C-Tran’s initial Bus Rapid Transit line, a similar system along Mill Plain Boulevard is warranted.
Officials are moving forward with plans to prepare the region for the future, creating infrastructure that will provide benefits for generations to come. Increasing the accessibility and efficiency of mass transit will help make Vancouver more livable, help mitigate climate change and mark the area as a forward-thinking locale — the kind that is attractive to new businesses and new residents.
This week, the Vancouver City Council approved an agreement with C-Tran to upgrade the area’s fiber optic network. C-Tran uses fiber optics to communicate with bus stations, and current capacity is insufficient to support a Bus Rapid Transit line.
There will be benefits even for those who never use mass transit. “We’ve been having conversations about the need for better internet connection for our business, for our community — kids who are struggling to get internet connections at home, for example,” Councilor Ty Stober said. “I am a little concerned that we’re not adding enough capacity in this upgrade.”
We will leave the details to the experts, but expansion of the network and the Bus Rapid Transit system represents progress.
C-Tran’s initial foray into Bus Rapid Transit has been successful. A line mostly along Fourth Plain Boulevard, now called The Vine, has seen increased ridership and decreased station stop times compared with the traditional bus route that had served the area. Ridership on The Vine also increased each year since its 2017 debut — at least until the coronavirus pandemic slowed the economy.
When it comes to buses, rapid transit is essentially the digital age upending an analog world of mass transit. As a study from the University of California found: “Bus Rapid Transit systems have gained popularity worldwide as a cost-effective alternative to far more expensive urban rail investments. High-quality bus-based systems also better serve the low-density settlement patterns of many suburban markets and small- to medium-size cities.”
That should be attractive to critics who oppose the expansion of Portland’s light-rail system into Clark County. An established, robust Bus Rapid Transit system will be a bulwark against fixed-rail transit on this side of the Columbia River.
Opponents of public transit long have complained that the systems do not pay for themselves. This is true; they are publicly subsidized projects for the public good. They represent a public expenditure to help neighbors access jobs, doctor’s appointments and shopping trips. They also help reduce traffic congestion, making it easier for those who drive to carry out those same daily functions.
Now, with the growing threat of climate change, investment in public transit is a key to reducing carbon emissions. A majority of C-Tran buses run on hybrid diesel-electric power, and the agency is aggressive in pursuing environmentally friendly policies.
The Mill Plain BRT is expected to cost about $50 million, with half of that being covered by a grant from the Federal Transit Administration. Another $5 million is expected from a federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement grant.
In 2019, the C-Tran route along Mill Plain saw about 761,000 passenger trips — more than 2,000 per day. Making the line more efficient will help attract more riders, making the roads more navigable for all Clark County residents. And it will be a worthy addition to a system that enhances the region’s quality of life.