TransLink is advancing the planning and project development of a Burnaby Mountain Gondola. A 3S gondola would provide a fast, frequent, and reliable service between the SkyTrain and Burnaby Mountain for the 25,000 daily trips made by SFU students, staff, faculty, and residents of UniverCity. Gondolas are safe, smart and cost-effective and they provide commuters with an environmentally friendly mode of transit that runs on electricity helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Throughout 2020, TransLink and its partners conducted a planning program with the objective of narrowing the three proposed gondola routes to a single, preferred route. The planning program included work on the conceptual design of the routes and two rounds of public engagement.
The technical work helped us evaluate the three proposed routes, and update key information, such as ridership, cost, and benefits. The first round of engagement asked the public what criteria was most important to them when assessing the three routes (e.g. environmental impacts, neighbourhood impacts, etc.). The second round of engagement shared the results of the route analysis based on that criteria and asked survey participants to indicate their level of support for each of the three routes.
The result of the technical work and engagement feedback led to a single, preferred route: Route 1 — the straight route from Production Way–University Station to SFU’s Burnaby campus. Route 1 offers the greatest benefits, lowest costs, and lowest impacts. The details of the route selection and engagement summaries can be found in the Route Selection Report (comprehensive list of Q&As included).
The Route Selection Report was shared with Burnaby City Council, the Mayors’ Council and TransLink’s Board of Directors in summer 2021. The Mayors’ Council and TransLink’s Board identified Route 1 as the preferred route, and Burnaby City Council endorsed the Route 1 option in January 2022.
TransLink will proceed with additional technical analysis to continue to build our project knowledge as we develop a business case and look to further engage with the public again in the future. We will continue working closely with the Province of BC, the City of Burnaby, Simon Fraser University, kʷikʷəƛ̓əm (Kwikwetlem First Nation), xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam Nation), Sḵwxw̱ ú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation) and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh Nation). TransLink’s Board and Mayors’ Council will then need to provide direction on the business case and whether the project will advance to the delivery stage.
Proposed Burnaby Mountain Gondola Route
Pre-engagement (Jan. to Aug. 2020)
Listen to interests and concerns of stakeholders; do technical analysis to understand, avoid and mitigate possible impacts of route options.
Phase 1 Public Engagement (Sept. 1 to 30, 2020)
Request input on criteria to assess route options; share information about the route options and urban gondolas, generally.
Phase 2 Public Engagement (Nov. 23 to Dec. 14, 2020)
Share route assessment results; provide updates on route options following more technical work.
Route Selection Report (summer 2021)
Share the final report with Burnaby Council and the Mayors' Council on Regional Transportation, including a route recommendation.
Business case development (2022-2023)
Proceed with technical analysis to continue to build project knowledge specific to the endorsed route: Route 1.
Ongoing engagement with Indigenous Nations; future public engagement opportunities will occur.
Transport 2050: 10-Year Priorities (2022)
Public engagement on the 10-Year Priorities will take place in April-May 2022 and then will be submitted to decision makers for approval in summer 2022.
The gondola will be considered as a candidate project for inclusion in Transport 2050: 10-Year Priorities, which will identify new regional projects and be funded through future investment plans.
Investment Plan and Project Approval (Timing TBD)
For the project to proceed, it must be included in an investment plan approved by the TransLink Board and Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation.
This is an upcoming stage for the project.
How did we get here?
Potential Burnaby Mountain Gondola Routes
In 2014, the Mayors’ Council developed a 10-Year Vision for Metro Vancouver Transit and Transportation which noted that a high-capacity connection from Burnaby Mountain to a nearby SkyTrain station may be required, and that further investigation and consultation was needed.
In November 2016, the Phase One Investment Plan committed to updating a previous 2011 assessment of a gondola linking Production Way–University Station to SFU Square on Burnaby Mountain. This assessment determined that a gondola was a feasible solution for improving travel time, addressing reliability issues, meeting future travel demand, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
In 2017, the merits of building a gondola were re-examined and we confirmed that there is still a compelling case for a gondola transit solution. For more details, view the updated Burnaby Mountain Gondola Transit Feasibility Study.
In May 2019, Burnaby City Council endorsed a recommendation that supports a gondola link from SkyTrain to the top of Burnaby Mountain, subject to several conditions. One such condition was to include the assessment of a third route option starting from Lake City Way Station, which has been done as part of the technical work throughout 2020.
Throughout 2020, TransLink and its partners conducted a planning program with the objective of narrowing the three proposed gondola routes to a single, preferred route. The planning program included work on the conceptual design and analysis of the three routes, as well as two rounds of public engagement.
The result of the technical work and engagement feedback led to a single, preferred route: Route 1 — the straight route from Production Way–University Station to SFU’s Burnaby campus. Route 1 offers the greatest benefits, lowest costs, and lowest implementation considerations. The details of the route selection and engagement summaries can be found in the Route Selection Report (comprehensive list of Q&As included).
Public engagement is a key component of rapid transit planning. Details of the two phases of public engagement that took place in fall 2020 are below. Thank you to everyone who took the time to complete the survey and/or participated in one of our engagement events. If you have any questions about the project, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Phase 2 Public Engagement
The second round of public engagement for the Burnaby Mountain Gondola project took place between Nov. 23 and Dec. 14, 2020. The engagement focussed on the evaluation of the three proposed routes based on several criteria, such as the project benefits, costs, and neighbourhood, environment, and safety considerations. We shared a Preliminary Route Evaluation Report with detailed information about each of the criteria. To learn about the public feedback we received, view the Phase Two Stakeholder and Public Engagement Summary Report, or visit our Phase Two Engagement page.
Phase 1 Public Engagement
The first round of public engagement for the Burnaby Mountain Gondola project took place between September 1 and 30, 2020. During the engagement, we shared information about the three route options, including travel times, costs and environmental impacts, as well as neighbourhood interests.
To learn about the public feedback we received, view the Phase One Stakeholder and Public Engagement Summary Report, or visit the Phase One Engagement page.
Is TransLink considering other technologies to connect Burnaby Mountain to the SkyTrain?
Past studies considered a number of ground-based and aerial transit options and led to the 3S gondola technology as the preferred solution to connect Burnaby Mountain to SkyTrain.
The benefits of a 3S gondola system include: the ability to operate in high wind conditions, sufficient ridership capacity, and energy-efficiency, which results in lower operating costs.
We recently consulted with two aerial ropeway suppliers on technology options who confirmed that 3S technology remains the best option.
What kind of gondola technology is proposed for the Burnaby Mountain Gondola?
The gondola system that is proposed to connect Skytrain to Burnaby Mountain is a three cable, or 3S system. It carries passengers comfortably in gondola cabins from station to station. It is the same technology used as the Peak to Peak Gondola in Whistler Blackcomb.
How many aerial gondola systems are there worldwide?
Gondola systems are a proven technology with more than 20,000 ropeway systems worldwide. For example, the system in Voss, Norway, has nearly 25,000 trips on an average day, and the system in Koblenz, Germany, has more than 91,000 trips per day.
What is the capacity of a gondola cabin?
The maximum capacity for a gondola cabin is 35 passengers.
Why are increasing buses, clean-energy buses, better snow removal and/or other solutions not being considered to meet the transit needs in the area?
More buses will not solve our current and future capacity problem. Our studies over the past decade have shown that a gondola service is still considered the best option for high-capacity transit to Burnaby Mountain.
A gondola would be a one-time investment to provide capacity for the next 30+ years, it would move people up the hill faster than buses, would have improved frequency and reliability, and it would extend our rapid transit network making it a more attractive option to drivers. That mode shift (from driving to taking transit) would help to reduce emissions as would switching from diesel buses to an electric gondola.
What are some of the benefits of a gondola?
Benefits of a gondola system include providing fast, frequent and reliable service. They are safe, provide ample capacity, can operate in all types of weather, and use renewable energy. In addition, a Burnaby Mountain gondola would reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) emissions from trips made by bus and vehicles:
From buses: The gondola would offset 3,700 tonnes of GHG emissions.
From vehicles: Route 1: would offset 1,400 tonnes, Route 2 would offset 1,300 tonnes, and Route 3 would offset 800 tonnes.
Note: The reduction in GHG emissions from vehicles would result from the anticipated mode shift from people choosing to take the gondola, rather than driving, due to the travel time savings.
How safe are gondolas?
Gondola systems are a proven safe technology with more than 20,000 ropeway systems worldwide. The proposed Burnaby Mountain Gondola would be a 3S system, which operates using three high-strength, multi-strand steel cables. Gondola cabins would be stored in stations overnight as opposed to leaving them on the line. The system would come with strong security measures in place to monitor the integrity of the gondola, like what is in place for SkyTrain, and the towers would be designed to prevent unauthorized access.
What specific measures could be put in place to prevent an act of vandalism that could cause the system to fall?
The system would come with strong security measures in place to monitor the integrity of the gondola, like what is in place for SkyTrain, and the towers would be designed to prevent unauthorized access. Specific measures could include:
physical barriers, gates, and locks could be used to impede access to critical components of the system;
towers could be gated, or designed with unclimbable, tubular structures surrounding them; and
maintenance ladders could be placed on the inside of the towers with lockable doors and monitored with a security system.
Could the gondola cables ice up and lead to ice falling to the ground below?
It would be quite unlikely for the gondola cables to ice-up, given the cabins move continuously. If ice was to form while the lift is operating, it would come off at the towers as the cabins pass, but in very small particles, similar to snow. If any ice formed overnight, onsite maintenance staff would take steps to mitigate the ice formation (e.g. operating the lift at slow speed with reduced cabins overnight).
Is the gondola safe in the wind?
The 3S gondola system can operate safely in winds of up to 100 km/hr. Having a three-cable system increases the stability of the gondola. In addition, the proposed gondola would be equipped with a weather monitoring system to keep operators aware of weather and wind conditions.
How safe are gondolas in the event of an earthquake?
Gondola systems are used in earthquake-prone zones around the world, including here in British Columbia as well as in California. Gondolas are more resistant to earthquakes than most structures, and the Burnaby Mountain gondola system would be designed to be seismically resilient. If the gondola is approved and funded, a detailed geotechnical evaluation would take place in order to ensure the final design of the gondola is compatible with the specific geotechnical conditions on Burnaby Mountain. Should the project proceed, a sophisticated emergency management plan would be put in place, including redundant machinery, backup power sources, and trained personnel to conduct evacuations, if ever needed.
How frequently would each cabin depart?
During peak periods, the gondola system would operate continuously with cabins departing about every minute. In periods of low demand (i.e. early morning, midday or late evening), the frequency could be reduced to better meet demand.
How fast would the gondola ride be connecting SkyTrain to Burnaby Mountain?
The travel time for Route 1 would be 6 minutes, compared to a 15-45 minute trip by bus.
Would bikes be allowed on the gondola? If so, would there be any restrictions?
Yes, bikes would be allowed on the gondola. Helping customers make sustainable travel choices, which includes the use of bikes throughout our system, is part of TransLink’s long-term strategy. Details related to bike usage on the gondola would be determined at a later stage through passenger modelling if the project proceeds.
Would all gondola cabins be accessible?
Yes, all gondola cabins would be accessible. The cabin floor would match the station floor elevation and the gap between the cabin and platform would meet all requirements for safe boarding and exiting. If a passenger needs extra time to get on or off the cabin, an attendant would be present to offer assistance. If needed, the attendant could also slow or stop the system.
Would the cabins stay on the cable at night?
When not in operation, cabins are typically removed from the line automatically and stored to reduce exposure. The cabin storage area is commonly collocated with a station or maintenance facility.
How bright would the gondola lights be?
The gondola would incorporate interior lighting that meets the appropriate standards. Floor lighting is typically used to create a safe space in which to move, but would not be visible at ground level.
How many routes were assessed?
Option 1: A straight-line route from Production Way–University Station to SFU’s Burnaby campus with the terminal located near the bus exchange.
Option 2: Eastern route (with a non-boarding angle station) from Production Way–University Station to SFU Burnaby campus with the terminal near the bus exchange.
Option 3: Western route (with a non-boarding angle station) from Lake City Way Station to SFU’s Burnaby campus with the terminal located south of South Campus Road.
In 2011, three other routes were assessed for viability, including: Lake City Way Station to South Campus Road (across from South Sciences Building), Production Way–University Station to intersection of Highland Court and Tower Road, and Burquitlam Station to SFU Bus Exchange. These routes were not further considered as they had impacts on conservation areas and conflicts with utilities (e.g. Burnaby Mountain storage terminal).
Most SFU students are on campus for only eight months of the year. Is there enough demand throughout the year to warrant a gondola?
Yes, the demand for transit service to Burnaby Mountain warrants a gondola. Prior to COVID-19, for most of the year, there were 25,000 daily trips made up and down Burnaby Mountain for school, work, business and recreation. In addition, the residential community of UniverCity has a population of roughly 7,000 residents and that number is expected to reach approximately 9,000 residents in the coming years.
While there are generally lower ridership levels to Burnaby Mountain in the summer months, we would also expect to see an increase in tourists at that time, similar to our SeaBus ridership.
In light of COVID-19 impacts and the shift to virtual learning, is it still prudent to build a gondola connecting to Burnaby Mountain?
Despite COVID-19, SFU’s residences on Burnaby Mountain are home to hundreds of students, and there are an additional 7,000 residents in UniverCity. Essential service workers, researchers, students and staff have continued to commute to Burnaby Mountain for work, research and approved in-person course work throughout the pandemic.
SFU continues to safely expand on-campus student experience activities and has recently resumed many in-person classes and labs.
Is there really a significant demand for transit to Burnaby Mountain?
Burnaby Mountain is currently served by four bus routes: R5, 143, 144, and 145. Between 2015-2019, transit ridership to/from Burnaby Mountain was 25,000 trips per day. At this level of ridership, customers often experience unreliable service and overcrowding. These problems are expected to worsen as the daytime (SFU student and staff) and permanent residential communities grow.
Can’t you just add more buses to meet the ridership demand?
We cannot keep adding buses to solve the capacity issue. There are a fixed number of buses that we can efficiently operate on a route and we are nearing the upper limit. Buses need to run their routes, have layovers, and in the case of electric buses, charge. We cannot add enough buses to meet current demand, nor the future anticipated demand from the growing student, staff, faculty, and residential population. A key limitation as to how fast we can operate buses is constrained by the time it takes people to board and exit a bus. The fastest observed frequency of bus operation on our network is every 2.5 minutes and that would not address our overcrowding problem.
Would trees need to be cut down for a gondola to be built?
Minimizing tree removal will be a key objective if this project moves ahead. That said, some tree removal would be required for each of the routes with Route 1 having the lowest impact to trees. Further work would be done to mitigate environmental impacts that could be associated with the construction of a gondola.
What would the Burnaby Mountain Gondola cost and who would pay for it?
Capital and operating costs were updated in 2020 and are comparable to the most recent previous study at an estimated $210 million. If the project proceeds, the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation would determine if the Burnaby Mountain Gondola is a funding priority to be included in a future Investment Plan.
Is property acquisition common when it comes to infrastructure projects?
Yes, acquiring privately-owned land to build or make changes to infrastructure such as roads, transit alignments and stations, and parks, for example, is quite common. Additionally, having open discussions, negotiating terms, and providing impacted land owners with fair compensation as a result of those infrastructure changes is also common practice.
Is property acquisition necessary if the gondola project proceeds with Route 1?
Yes, property acquisition in the form of aerial passage over two multi-family property complexes is necessary to build the gondola. This means the land and homes themselves would remain untouched, but TransLink would acquire rights for the gondola to pass overhead (60 metres above the homes).
Would impacted residents receive compensation?
Yes, TransLink would compensate the property owners of the two multi-family complexes over which the gondola would pass.
What is the process to compensate impacted residents?
If the gondola project proceeds, a TransLink representative would contact the property owner located within the gondola right-of-way to make them aware of the project.
We would engage the services of an independent appraiser to determine the current market value of the property/aerial rights and work to reach an agreement with each property owner. Residents could remain in their homes and would not be required to move.
The property acquisition process starts once a project is approved and funded (Note: the Burnaby Mountain Gondola is not yet approved or funded.)