The electric river bus service was first offered in 2018. It would connect the communities of Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows, Port Coquitlam, Surrey and New Westminster to major transit hubs.
Advisor Ahmed Yousef is tired of waiting. In 2018, he brought his vision for all-electric bus service on the Fraser River to Maple Ridge Council and he has yet to see it come to fruition.
The proposed route would connect communities such as Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows, Port Coquitlam, Surrey and New Westminster to major transit hubs via a short river trip.
Shortly after presenting it to his local council, Yousef took his proposal to Metro Vancouver’s climate action committee in 2019, where it was unanimously voted to present it to TransLink as part of their plan. Transportation 2050.
However, since its positive reception by the Climate Action Committee, the project has stalled.
“As it stands, TransLink has been notified of the proposal numerous times,” Yousef said. “And so far they haven’t really started any real steps on the ground to get that up and running.”
While waiting for a sign from Metro Vancouver’s transit operator, Yousef says he understands this will be a significant change for the organization.
“TransLink, I understand, is a huge organization and for them to shift gears will take a bit of time,” he said. “But hopefully they can be leaders in this area and really achieve that.”
In an emailed statement, TransLink said all ideas from the 2050 Elected Officials Forum – including the river bus service – were considered in developing their Transportation 2050 plan. more water-based transit options is one that TransLink says it has included in its 30- and 10-year transportation plans.
“We will work with the Council of Mayors on next steps to explore the potential for more passenger ferries as we execute the actions outlined in our 10-year priority plan“wrote a spokesperson for TransLink.
Recently, Yousef says FortisBC has taken an interest in the project, bringing its expertise in electrical infrastructure and adding to the ever-growing list of service benefits Yousef is compiling.
“The prospect of traveling on water is soothing and calming,” Yousef said. “A lot of people said, ‘I can do my reading and catch up on my work quietly floating down this beautiful river, surrounded by greenery.'”
The psychological effect of being on the water versus the road is one Yousef truly believes will help commuters, especially those returning home with families.
“I wouldn’t see red, literally, the taillights of vehicles in front of me for three hours of my day,” he said. ” I do not think so [commuters are] in a good mood to be able to take care of small children, for example, [after that].”
In his research, Yousef says he spoke with West Coast Express train users, private vehicle commuters and bus users to understand the motivations behind their transit choices.
“For [those commuters]a 20-minute sail to New Westminster to now connect to a TransLink hub where they can hop on a SkyTrain or hop on a bus is key,” he said.
“It’s a dream come true.”
In his own community of Maple Ridge, Yousef says residents are generally underserved by TransLink and he believes this power connection could save a lot of commuting time.
Large investments needed to propel ships
Keeping river bus production local is another thing Yousef is passionate about. With help from Templar Marine, a Kelowna-based electric boat company, he thinks it’s possible to build the system, create local jobs and keep investment in BC.
However, Mark Fry, owner and founder of Templar Marine, says a number of obstacles remain to making the service a reality.
“The speed at which the Fraser River flows is not suitable for electric boats, because they are simply not powerful enough at the moment,” he said. “And therein lies the problem.”
With the Fraser River moving at a speed of around six or seven miles per hour, Fry says the infrastructure to propel the boats would have to be extremely powerful.
“The best way to describe this is if a sniper fires a bullet, it can hit someone a mile away,” Fry said. “If that same bullet is fired into a pool, it will travel six feet before disintegrating.”
It’s not that it’s impossible, Fry says, but the amount of money needed to build infrastructure powerful enough to run the boats will be an expensive sum.
“To run electric boats on the Fraser River would require an enormous amount of power to counter the current,” he said.
“Is it possible? Absolutely. But it will require a boat with substantial battery power and propulsion power for this to happen.
In addition to building a boat powerful enough to handle the currents of the Fraser River, Fry says that if the vessel exceeds 12 passengers, its operations can become complicated in terms of safety and legality.
“As soon as you exceed 12 passengers, you need to install life rafts, fire extinguishing systems, separate bulkheads and have a highly trained crew and crew. It cannot be operated by one person,” he explained.
But again, Fry said all of this could be possible with enough funding. If everything falls into place perfectly today, Templar Marine would be “absolutely” happy to tackle the project, he added.
First Nations collaboration “absolutely necessary”
According to Yousef, working with local First Nations on the project is something necessary. As a newcomer to Canada himself, he says he would like river buses to represent First Nations history, culture and philosophy so that commuters can learn while riding.
“[To] using the philosophy that our First Nations have of using nature to our advantage without doing harm, is something that I believe future generations desperately need,” he said.
Yousef said he spoke to Katzie and Kwantlen First Nations, and both were receptive to the idea. Glacier Media reached out to Katzie First Nation for comment, but councilor Rick Bailey said he doesn’t remember much of the discussion.
Conversations aside, Yousef said it’s difficult to have meaningful discussions with potential stakeholders without knowing if TransLink is ready to take on the project and work with these proposed partners.
Initially pitching the idea to TransLink at its 2050 Chosen Ones forum, Yousef now has doubts about how long he might be willing to wait to take action.
“2050 is a long way off,” he said. “We have the ability to do that today if there’s the will to be able to put a few dollars into it and start to really change the mindset and the way we do things in a much more sustainable way.”