Underground Bus Loop Cancelled Again

There will be no underground bus terminal at UBC.

Quietly this week, at an open house for a new rental housing development on University Boulevard, Campus and Community Planning (C+CP) revealed that the current plan for a new transit terminal at UBC has been deemed unfeasible. This plan, which called for an at-grade pick-up/drop-off area adjacent to War Memorial Gym, combined with an underground layover area beneath a relocated MacInnes field, will not proceed. It is just the latest setback for a project that has been in development for more than a decade.

Now-cancelled plan for a new bus terminal. Pick-up/drop-off area adjacent to the North side of War Memorial Gym. Underground layover area under a "new MacInnes field" on the current site of the Aquatic Centre.

The project had received Board 1 approval in 2012. Based on initial work at the time, the estimated capital cost for the project was said to be $21M. Based on this estimate, the university and Translink signed a funding agreement in which Translink agreed to contribute 50% of the cost, or $8.84M, whichever was less.

However, as more detailed design work was done, it emerged that both the budget and the size of the underground layover facility would not be sufficient to meet Translink’s operational requirements, which called for enough underground space to accommodate 15 buses. Broadly speaking, the larger size and turning radius of buses meant that the facility’s support columns had to be spaced further apart than in a typical underground parking lot designed for cars. This not only necessitated a footprint approximately 10% larger than the space available, but also increased the estimated cost by $6M.

Internally, the project has been dead for at least a few months. At their last meeting in December, UBC’s Board of Governors received a presentation in camera about other possible design options that were already being generated. Unlike the last time the underground bus loop was cancelled in 2009, in which the stated reason for cancellation was because Translink pulled its funding, Translink is still working with UBC on a new terminal and intends to honour its funding commitment should a suitable design ever be found.

[It should be noted that the design of the previous bus loop was never actually feasible either - for more details see here and here - TL;DR: The previous bus loop was designed based on bus service and ridership levels from before the U-Pass was introduced. Upon introduction of the U-Pass, ridership went up over 50% and has grown even more since then.]

Multiple sources have suggested that the most prominent idea at this point involves keeping the pick-up/drop-off area unchanged, but putting the layover area on the site of the current bus loop, and then building student housing on top of it. This really puts the absurdity of the last five years of bus loop planning into focus.

A little history for anyone not in Year 11+ of their studies at UBC: the current bus loop was opened in 2004 and was only meant to be a temporary facility. The plan at the time was to build a permanent, fully-enclosed underground transit terminal underneath where the New SUB and Alumni Centre were ultimately built. The plans for this bus loop were contentious for many years until in 2009, the project was cancelled.

Rather than simply transition the temporary bus loop into a permanent one, UBC’s position was that it had to fulfill a promise it had made to the UEL that a new permanent transit terminal would be built at a different location, so it was back to the drawing board. The idea of at-grade pick-up/drop-off separated from underground layover under MacInnes Field was first put forward in early 2010 by the President’s Advisory Committee on Campus Enhancement (PACCE). Shortly after, a member of PACCE presented it to the public as part of an Ideas Fair on bus loop design, after which C+CP started to feature that design more prominently. During a subsequent planning process for the area around the bus loop, C+CP designed exercises in order to ensure it would emerge as the consensus option. That was indeed the result and since then UBC has been moving forward with that design – until now.

Since the 2009 cancellation, after more than 5 years of trying to come up with a new location for the bus loop, it’s come full circle: a significant portion of the “permanent” bus loop may be built on literally the exact same parcel of land as the “temporary” bus loop now sits. How far might $21M go if directed towards upgrades and improvments? Maybe what we needed was right in front of us all along.


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