– Three-SeaBus service to be delayed

North Shore News

by James Weldon

North Shore commuters won’t be seeing relief from crowded SeaBuses any time soon after TransLink announced its plan to refurbish two of the aging vessels has been scrapped.

A spokesman for the transit authority confirmed this week that TransLink no longer intends to fix up the 30-year-old Burrard Otter and Burrard Beaver, but rather replace them with two new ships.

The change, which TransLink believes will be more cost-effective, means plans to bring three SeaBuses on-line simultaneously will be delayed yet again.

The original proposal, announced in June last year, was to put a new SeaBus into service by the end of 2009, and then take each of the older boats off-line in turn for refurbishment. Once those repairs were complete, all three vessels would begin plying the waters between North Vancouver and downtown, reducing the wait between peak-time sailings from 15 minutes to 10.

Under the revised scheme, the new SeaBus, called the Burrard Pacific Breeze, will still come into service this fall, but the existing boats will not be upgraded. Instead, the Pacific Breeze will run alongside one of the older vessels as it is, while the other is taken off-line. This arrangement will last until a second new SeaBus can be built and put into service, at which point the Otter and the Beaver will both be retired, keeping service levels unchanged.

The only exception will be during the Olympics, when all three vessels will be put into service simultaneously — a temporary boost paid for by VANOC.

The change of plans has to do with the state of the older SeaBuses’ hulls, said Ken Hardie, a spokesman for TransLink.

When the authority looked more closely at its options for refurbishment earlier this year, it became apparent that the aging vessels wouldn’t remain seaworthy long enough to warrant them fixing up.

“For a marine vessel, there are standards you have to meet and certifications you have to have,” he said.

“We could put a lot of money into refurbishing a boat, but because of the limited . . . lifespan for the certification of the hull, we wouldn’t see as big a return for our investment as we would if we built something brand new.”

In comments to the North Shore Outlook, TransLink CEO Tom Prendergast suggested the cost estimate for refurbishment was higher than expected, and that the shipyards involved would not warranty the hulls.

TransLink still wants to boost service on the route in the long term, said Hardie, but it won’t be able to until it has the funding to build and operate a third new vessel.

It is unclear when that will be.

When the plan was announced last year, TransLink said it would have all three SeaBuses on the crossing in early 2010. In an interview Tuesday, Hardie estimated it would more likely have been some time in 2011. The start date will likely be even later than that now, he said.

“We would not be in expansion mode certainly next year and perhaps for the following year,” he said. “We would have to have a whole range of conversations with the region about how to go forward with expansion.”

In July, TransLink submitted three versions of its revised 10-year plan to the council of Metro Vancouver mayors: one that would see dramatic cuts in service; one that would see service maintained at current levels; and one that would allow the transit network to expand.

Only if the third plan and most expensive were adopted would the three-SeaBus vision see the light of day, but that would require an additional $175 million in additional funding.

The province has since suggested there will be no boost in TransLink’s revenue any time soon.

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