Letter: A call for a transit future that addresses the climate crisis

Corey Agopian/Unsplash

When we launched our Climate Action Plan earlier this year, one of our commitments was to advocate for increased bus capacity and rapid transit to UBC.

Much has changed in the world since then, but as we look towards a return to pre-COVID levels of campus occupancy in the coming year, access to UBC via public transit remains a climate issue, an equity issue, and an accessibility issue.

We recognize the challenges that the provincial government, UBC, and TransLink have faced in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, and believe that a sustainable and just recovery plan will lead to a more efficient and reliable transit system for all. In the below letter, this is the transition that the undersigned members of the UBC Geography community wish to advocate for.

Anyone from the UBC community wishing to add their signature to the letter can do so here. It will be delivered before the end of the year.

The Climate Action Committee is grateful to Project Assistant Rachel Cheang for her work in helping to draft this letter.

Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (pending new cabinet announcement)
Kevin Desmond, CEO of Translink
UBC President, Santa Ono
Vice President External Relations, Robin Ciceri
Associate Vice President Campus and Community Planning, Michael White

To the Provincial Government of British Columbia, TransLink and UBC:

Transit has demonstrated itself to be an essential service, especially in the wake of COVID-19. With parts of B.C.’s economy reopening and the restoration of transit services, transit ridership is expected to return to pre-COVID levels as many people begin returning to their commutes. We are aware that the Province of B.C. has set aside funds from its provincial aid package for transit agencies to address the major financial impacts that TransLink, like many transit agencies across the country, has incurred due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the conditions created by the pandemic have resulted in a dire loss of transit revenue and created financial uncertainty around the future of transit services, calls have been made for the Province to address transit affordability in its poverty reduction mandate. It is also imperative that we urgently act on significantly reducing our carbon emissions. This is the time for us to rethink emergency relief and recovery plans to strategically address the climate crisis we are in and push for a just transition.

UBC has committed to an ongoing transition towards a low-carbon future, with a goal of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, yet daily commuting alone accounts for 20% of UBC’s Vancouver campus total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (in 2017). We commend the University for working closely with TransLink on improving transit options to UBC, and would like to express our support for continued efforts to improve infrastructure that will greatly reduce single-occupant automobile use. One way is to increase transit capacity and ridership. This will reduce reliance on private automobiles and associated fuel use, especially for UBC community members who live outside of Metro Vancouver, and promote sustainable urban growth for the city as students, staff and faculty prepare to return to school.

Therefore, as faculty, staff and students of the UBC Department of Geography, and members of the wider UBC community, we request that the provincial government of British Columbia, TransLink and UBC prioritize the following demands in transit recovery plans:

Increased bus capacity and frequency: Transit ridership at UBC accounted for 54% of all trips to and from UBC each day in 2019. Despite a significant growth in ridership, up to 2019, UBC has failed to achieve the target of a 20 per cent reduction in single-occupant vehicle trips to and from UBC from 1997 levels. Trips by transit are often limited by transit capacity, especially during peak periods where students struggle with having comfortable standing room, much less having a seat for long commutes. We need greater bus capacity to safely rebuild and incentivize ridership to return to, or even exceed, pre-COVID levels. We urge TransLink to refocus its workforce and distribute resources into routes that serve UBC commuters by deploying additional bus capacity and increasing bus frequency once in-person classes resume.

Expansion of rapid transit to UBC: A rapid transit network will not only accommodate a growing population of students, faculty and staff at UBC, it will also efficiently and sustainably connect UBC to the Metro Vancouver region and beyond, while reducing commuting times, decreasing emissions and expanding access to a wider range of services and facilities. In January 2020, TransLink rolled out a new R4 RapidBus line to UBC. This is a step in the right direction, and we look forward to continued investments in rapid transit to UBC, including light rail options, more bus priority measures and more express route improvements considering peak period ridership. As noted by some experts on urban design, these options must go hand in hand with plans for more affordable rental housing on campus for students, faculty and staff.

Continued investment in accessible transit infrastructure: We commend Translink’s capital plan to deliver new accessibility features in its 2020 budget, including installing new tactile walking surface indicators (TWSI) and braille and tactile signage for bus stops across the region, as well as new RapidBus signs to display bus arrival times with supplemental audio announcements. Access also goes beyond physical accommodations. TransLink’s monolingual system and lack of translation services, signs and information sheets effectively creates language barriers to accessing transit services for various racialized communities and tourists. Multilingual transit is also crucial for passengers in times of a major service disruption, delay, or in the case of emergency conditions. We urge TransLink to pave the way for greater accessibility in transit infrastructure via proper research and consultations with members of the disabled community. Accessibility should be prioritized alongside other facility upgrades. We also hope to see more accessible transit features on the UBC campus, to remove barriers to mobility for our community members.

We support the current efforts by UBC to set GHG reduction targets for Scope 3 emissions, which include daily commuting, as part of the University’s Climate Emergency Declaration. According to the UBC Climate Action Plan, Scope 3 emissions accounted for 56 per cent of UBC’s Vancouver Campus total emissions in 2017, and emissions from daily commuting was the largest contributor (36 per cent). As a global leader in sustainability, it is encouraging that the University is accounting for daily commuting emissions, and we hope they will continue to work with partners in the region, including the Province, TransLink and Metro Vancouver, to achieve net-zero carbon strategies for the transport sector.

Transit is a lifeline for our communities. As we transition into a post COVID-19 world, transit will be critical to our economic recovery, and our solutions to both the pandemic and the climate crisis should carve a clear path to ensure no one gets left behind. This means setting bold targets and collaborating with stakeholders across the region to take action on targets that match the scale of the climate crisis. We hope that the Province and TransLink will continue to work alongside the University to support the pressing need for action on these requests.

While we recognize that this is a major undertaking, we must underscore how our return to a “new normal” presents a promising opportunity to rebuild a more sustainable, efficient and reliable transit system. As faculty and staff, we will continue to hold our university and partners accountable to its goals and lead the way forward towards a just and livable future for all.


Mohammed Rafi Arefin
Assistant Professor, UBC Geography

Vicky Baker
Project Manager, Department of Asian Studies

Trevor Barnes
Professor, UBC Geography

Flavien Beaud
Postdoctoral Research Fellow, UBC Geography

Alec Blair
Lecturer, UBC Geography

Loch Brown
Associate Professor of Teaching, UBC Geography

Rachel Brydolf-Horwitz
Graduate student, UBC Geography

Sara Cannon
Graduate student, UBC Geography

María Cervantes
Graduate student, UBC Geography

Richard Copley
Senior Instructor Emeritus, UBC Geography

Paul Cottle
Adjunct Professor, UBC Geography

Joseph Daniels
Graduate student, UBC Geography

Johannes Exler
Graduate student, UBC Geography

Pamela Francis
Administrative Assistant, UBC Geography

Albina Gibadullina
Graduate student, UBC Geography

Kevin Gillard
GIC Operations Manager, UBC Geography

Derek Gregory
Professor, UBC Geography

Mary Halton
Communications Manager, UBC Geography

Sally Hermansen
Professor of Teaching, UBC Geography

Nina Hewitt
Assistant Professor of Teaching, UBC Geography

Dan Hiebert
Professor, UBC Geography

Sara Knox
Assistant Professor, UBC Geography

Michele Koppes
Associate Professor, UBC Geography

Merje Kuus
Professor, UBC Geography

Sung Ching Lee
Postdoctoral Research Fellow, UBC Geography

Xueshun Liu
Lecturer, Department of Asian Studies

Siobhán McPhee
Associate Professor of Teaching, UBC Geography

Dan Moore
Professor, UBC Geography

Priti Narayan
Assistant Professor, UBC Geography

Maija Norman
Administrator, Department of Asian Studies

Jamie Peck
Professor, UBC Geography

Erik Post
Graduate student, UBC Geography

Geraldine Pratt
Professor, UBC Geography

Christopher Reimer
Graduate student, UBC Geography

Cora Sachs
Graduate student, UBC Geography

Matteo Saletti
Postdoctoral Research Fellow, UBC Geography

Naomi Schwartz
Assistant Professor, UBC Geography

Olav Slaymaker
Professor Emeritus, UBC Geography

Sarah Smith-Tripp
Graduate student, UBC Geography

Julie Walchli
Executive Director, Work Integrated Education and Career Initiatives, Faculty of Arts

Jennifer Williams
Associate Professor, UBC Geography

Alex Winter-Billington
Graduate student, UBC Geography

Kyle Wlodarczyk
Graduate student, UBC Geography

Aaron Woods
Digital Media Specialist, UBC Geography