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Surrey is a city within the province of British Columbia, Canada. It is a member of the municipality of Metro Vancouver, the governing body of the Greater Vancouver Regional District. With an estimated population of over 446,000 people[1], Surrey is currently the second largest city in the province and 12th largest in Canada[2]. Surrey has six town centres including Guilford, Fleetwood, Newton, South Surrey, Whalley and Cloverdale. Surrey spans 317.19 square kilometres and is located east of Vancouver City centre. Surrey’s city centre is concentrated in the community of Whalley. <googlemap version="0.9" lat="49.131408" lon="-122.798996" type="map" zoom="11"> </googlemap>


Surrey is known for its expansive park space and is recognized as having more green space per capita than any other community in the Metro Vancouver area. Surrey is also home to agricultural land, beaches, business and commercial developments,including a highly dense city centre, and low density residential neighbourhoods. Surrey is a major urban centre south of the Fraser River that is characterized by urban sprawl. Streets in Surrey, in spite of its large geographic space, are conveniently labelled with numbers that descend in order. Although there is heavily congested traffic around the city centre, finding your way through Surrey and its neighbourhoods is rather simple. (See map below)

Surrey Grid.jpeg [3]

Population Demographics

Density legend.jpegGVRD density.png[4]

People per square kilometre

Historically, Surrey's growth stemmed from post-war suburbanization, and has accounted for almost 30% of Surrey's population growth[5]. In recent years Surrey has experienced rapid changes in population. Surrey has increased its population by 40% in the last six years, making Surrey one of the fastest growing urban centres in Canada[6]. Despite this rapid growth, Surrey is characterized by a low population density. In short, the city is very spread out. Therefore, Surrey has recognized the need to increase family housing developments in residential areas while improving the transit system to cater to commuters.

Immigration continues to increase in Surrey[7]. Currently immigrants make up approximately 38% of the population of Surrey[8]. The high number of immigrants that move to Surrey contributes to the rapid increase in population. 48% of the population of Surrey is a visible minority or aboriginal[9]. The use of public transport in Canada is significantly higher among immigrants than people born in Canada[10]. In Vancouver the number of immigrants that use public transit is almost twice the number of Canadian born people[11]. The high transit use from these immigrants is concentrated on Skytrain routes[12]. Considering the rapid increase of population, the distance that population is spread over, the high number of immigrants and the reliance of this population on the public transit system, it is clear that Surrey requires a substantial public transportation network in order to meet the needs of its residents.

In addition to the population demographics, it is important to note that the Whalley area of Surrey is the most densely populated as it is the commercial centre of Surrey and, more importantly, is the only centre with a Skytrain station[13]. Therefore, most public transportation within the South Fraser area is only reachable by bus, making travelling by foot inconvenient and inefficient. These problems are made more difficult for families that do not own their own vehicle.


Commuting within and from Surrey has increased sharply in recent years. Within Surrey, work trip flows are highly dispersed. Surrey has multiple town centres, each with its own commercial and residential development. The way the city has developed around these centres has made it necessary for citizens to go out of their way to various parts of the city in order to travel to work. Only 13% of such trips are made by public transit, compared to 26% of the time in Vancouver. Public transit service is focused from around the Scott Road Skytrain station. However, one third of all commutes within the city begin and end at one of the town centres. Surrey plans to promote transit use by encouraging denser development in the town centres in hopes of preventing urban sprawl. The focus will be directed to the areas where the population is more easily served by transit. This calls for densities to range from 30 - 300 unites per hectare, compared to an average of 10 units/hectare, which can be seen in the typical single family area of the city.

Current State of Transit in Surrey

According to a statistic study regarding private transportation, though the Canadian average of kilometres per passenger decreased by almost 2%, in Vancouver, the average distance increased by 7.3%. [14] This marks a trend of passenger vehicles being preferred above public transit, and may be an indicator that current infrastructure is not up to par with the needs of the citizens. However, despite this indicator, public transit usage in Vancouver in the same time period (measured by individual usage from 1995-96 and 2005-06 timespans) increased by 13% in Vancouver, well above the average Canadian trend of 7.5% [15] This is probably due to the lack of standardization of transit systems between cities, stemming from a rift between provincial and national governments of Canada in the 1970s. [16] Within all these statistics, however, lies the fact that the population is growing, they have places to go, and they need a system that supports them.

Surrey has been recognized as one of the neediest parties in the UBC-Broadway Corridor-Surrey debate. As one of the fastest growing cities in the country, the City of Surrey has recognized that there needs to be public transit improvements. Surrey Councillor Judy Villeneuve has been quoted as saying “You can get anywhere in Vancouver by bus, and in Surrey you can’t.” [17] This issue has also been touched on in academic research; in a focus group based study for a paper written by David Ley and Heather Smith, participants also discussed transit. One person was noted as saying “I cannot imagine living in Surrey without a car,” and then went on to describe one particular experience in which she was stranded for several hours due to the lack of transit running after her appointments.[18]

Currently, 84% of all trips between urban centres in Surrey or surrounding communities are made by car. [19] What TransLink is doing right now is a sort of "debate and decide"[20] policy with their current studies. They have been trying to engage various parties to explore their ideas, wants, and needs in an expanded transit system. Furthermore, the cities themselves have been exploring their own options, including some of Surrey's chief leaders examining transportation projects in Portland, Oregon, for guidance and ideas regarding public transit improvements. There are several methods of improvements being considered, including Best Bus, Light Rail Transit, Rapid Rail Transit (Skytrain + Canada Line), and Bus Rapid Transit. Within these options, several routes of have been drawn up that are project to alleviate some of the traffic strains. [21]

Bus Rapit Transit would include buses running in dedicated bus lanes and the usage of priority signals at intersections. The current proposal options includes connecting the Fleetwood area with the Guildford and/or White Rock areas.

Light Rail Transit is an electric, non-automated (human driven) streetcars resembling a tram on the ground. They operate on separate rails in a dedicated lane. This system would combine Bust Rapid Transit in many proposed routes, which include connecting Surrey Centre to Newton and Guildford, with Bus Rapid Transit connecting to other areas like Langley and White Rock.

Rapid Rail Transit is similar to the SkyTrain and Canada Line systems that currently exist. Proposed options include extended the SkyTrain to the Newton or Langley areas, and possibly in conjunction with Bus Rapid Transit to connect Fleetwood via the Guildford area, or with increased general bus service.

Best Bus is also an option. This is the lowest-cost option, involving no modification to the current infrastructure beyond improving existing bus service. Best Bus encompasses the ideas of new routes, new B-Line/express buses, upgraded and new vehicles, adding bike lanes, and using traffic signals that prioritize transit.

Surrey bus stops.jpeg [22] Bus routes and stops, Surrey, BC.

The city has toyed with the idea of footing part of the bill itself. It is possible that the issue would face a referendum if the city did want to funnel some capital into improving public transit. Since TransLink has asked city mayors for additional financing for funding transit options, some cities see that coming from increased property taxes, which is something they would not like to do.

To illustrate further the state of public transportation within the South Fraser Area, several students from the Kwantlen Polytechnic University tested three methods of transportation from the Surrey Campus to the Langley Campus; one ran, one cycled and another took public transportation. Within this 19 km route, the cyclist finished in 59 minutes, the runner in 66 minutes, and last the transit rider took a total of 79 minutes, a complete 13 minutes slower than traveling by foot.[23] The UPass, a transit pass subsidized for public institution post-secondary students, is acceptable for any public transportation (bus, skytrain,or seabus) at a cheaper price,is appealing to many students. However, it may be a problem for Surrey and Langley students, as traveling by foot was proved to be faster than travelling by transit.

The Issue

Public transportation within Surrey need severe improvements in order to keep up with its growing and changing population. In spite of an increase in population, only 13% of work commute trips use public transit in Surrey compared to 26% of work commutes in Vancouver. The poor turn out for transit commuters is associated with an ill equipped transit system. We want to understand and uncover how this growing city will accommodate and encourage commuters to use an efficient transit system. In public consultation with residents of Surrey, the number one issue concerning residents was the poor transit service. While many commuters are seen driving, it is estimated that approximately 50,000 residents do not have access to a vehicle. Surrey is in great need of transit expansion and upgrades. An increase in commuting between Surrey and other suburban areas has also increased, leading to heavy congestion and traffic on major commuter routes. Surrey needs to incorporate density strategies and “suburban sprawl” into its plan of improvements to accommodate the concentration of people around its centres. Unfortunately, for the commuter and the environment, having a car is infinitely easier than using transit.

Managing a growing population is both challenging and controversial. Public transportation affects everyone, those who drive and those who do not. The amount of non-public transit traffic varies with public transport. The elderly and disabled citizens rely heavily on accessible and reliable transportation. As it shows, Surrey’s growth is not coming to a stand still any time soon. If the population trends continue to increase the way they have been, including the influx of immigration, the current transit system needs to be heavily improved and upgraded. Not only is this a logistical issue, its an environmental one. As more people move to the city there is a greater potential for more vehicles and a more polluted environment. However, with an efficient transit system in place its hopeful that less commuters will rely on their vehicle and will opt for transit, or perhaps there will be an increased demand for the implementation of bicycle lanes. This issue is worth analyzing because, if the outcome of an efficient transit system is put into place in Surrey, it can be used as an example for other growing communities and their struggle to support transportation problems.

If Surrey continues to maintain its place as one of the largest growing cities in the province, and population patterns and trends continue, citizens will need more ways to travel. One of the causes may be a population growth rate that exceeds an infrastructure growth rate. If this scenario begins, there will potentially be more problems elsewhere in the region of GVRD. The lack of accessibility for others may also start to affect other parts of the infrastructure. For example, Heather Smith and David Ley examine numerous tales of various immigrant families in Surrey; in one instance, there was an immigrant who could not go home as easily has he came to an interview, because of the lack of accessible transit.

Urban Sprawl

Surrey is divided into 8 electoral districts:

  • Whalley (Pop.51,405)
  • Cloverdale (Pop.50,5440)
  • Fleetwood (Pop. 49,885)
  • Green Timbers (Pop.52,595)
  • Newton (Pop.53,685)
  • Panorama (Pop.51,670)
  • Tynehead (pop.50,920)
  • White Rock (Pop.50,165)

The urban sprawl in Surrey is enormous, encouraging a greater dependence on the automobile and leaving a greater distance between people and the city centre. In Surrey, the percentage of people who rely on their automobile for commuting to work is 76.1% and those who rely on public transportation is 10.9%. Another interesting fact is that 18% of Surrey residents are in the low income bracket. An upgraded and more frequented transit system might help residents who have difficulties owning and maintaining a vehicle. [24]

Surrey income.jpeg [25] Household income in Surrey, BC.

Tynehead, Cloverdale and White Rock use transit the least, with only 5% taking public transportation. Cloverdale relies the most on personal transportation with over 80% reliant on their own vehicles. Approximately 20% of the population in Whalley use public transportation, the most out of all the districts. How does this compare to other districts in other? In the Vancouver-Kingsway area for example, over 30% use transit. The walk-ability factor in the urban neighbourhoods is also a factor, in that they are not particularily desirable and encourage car dependency. According to “Walk Score,” a site that can give a particular neighbourhood a score out of 100 based on its walking proximity to amenities, such as stores,parks and community centres, neighbourhood’s are given the following scores:

  • Guilford- 93
  • Newton- 85
  • Cloverdale- 68
  • Fleetwood- 67
  • Panorama- 45
  • White Rock (Crescent Beach)- 35

The scores, according to the website, are based on the following criteria:

  • 90–100 Walker's Paradise — Daily errands do not require a car.
  • 70–89 Very Walkable — Most errands can be accomplished on foot.
  • 50–69 Somewhat Walkable — Some amenities within walking distance.
  • 25–49 Car-Dependent — A few amenities within walking distance.
  • 0–24 Car-Dependent — Almost all errands require a car. [26]


Surrey’s rapid growth in population has greatly impacted it’s transportation use. Therefore, the population growth has heavily affected main transit locations like Surrey’s City Central, formerly known as Whalley. Evidence of gentrification is not only evident in how it is more typically known as Surrey City Central, but as Lees Slater and Wyly state in their book Gentrification [27], there are typically 4 elements that create the foundation of gentrification; (1) the revinvestment of capital, (2) the social upgrading of locale by incoming high income groups; (3) landscape change and (4) direct or indirect displacement of low-income groups.

The best example of reinvestment of capital, as well as the social upgrading and landscape change, would be the building of SFU Surrey. By bringing in one of Vancouver’s most known and respected architectures Bing Thom, not only were there plans of redesign for Surrey Central mall, but also was a new development plan for all of Surrey Central. The “proposed Surrey City Development [was] envisioned to act as a catalyst to encourage future commercial growth in the City Centre.” [28] This development plan included a 49 storey office tower in hopes of bringing in new private investors and to “improve Surrey Central’s reputation and bring it out of it’s gloomy past” Following the plans of Building SFU Surrey was the start of a new project building condo in the Surrey Central locations known as the Infinity Tower [29]. This endeavour encouraged investments from people of the middle socio-economic class.


In 2009, Surrey was ranked the 9th in terms of highest overall crime rates in all of Canada [31] by Macleans Magazine. As most residents of the lower mainland know, Surrey Central has a known reputation for crime, theft, and drugs. These observations are supported by Translink (2008) when they ranked Surrey Central as the second station with the highest crime rates. Surrey also has a reputation of having a large amount of homeless people. As new residential development are increasing in the Whalley area and the inadvertent increase in house property value continues to climb (especially for development for winter 2010 in the Vancouver region) the number of homelessness in the Whalley Area has increased and is continuing to grow. [32] [33]

In addition, since 1996 until 2006 there has been a 30% increase in house property value, which has been a major contributing factor to gentrification especially in the Whalley area. [34] Since the Winter Olympics 2010, and encouraged urbanization in the downtown, especially in the waterfront area, as it has managed "to avoid the worst of traditional North American Renewal [35] As property values are increasing, so has the number of increased homelessness in Surrey. In a 2008 Metro Vancouver edition, a survey counted the number of homesless in surrey that lived either on the streets or in emergency shelter beds, and found 402 individuals, 15% of the entire region's homeless.[36] The number of homeless in Surrey has been a problem for many years, and as development in the area because of the proximity to rapid and central public transportation, gentrification is a major problem. A proposed plan however has been developed by the Municipal government as a temporary relief to eleviate the homeless at Surrey Central [37] as more are commuting into Surrey, especially since the opening of SFU Surrey, and the infinity towers.

However, since gentrification and homelessness has been such a problem in the past for Surrey's main rapid public transportation area (ie. Surrey Central and Whalley), it begs to question whether further development of rapid transportation by Translink might bring bigger, more complicated issues of gentrification to other parts of Surrey. If the Expo line ran deeper into Surrey, or even the consideration of light rails, because of the spatial sprawl that Surrey has, there is much opportunity for development especially of urban living such as condominiums, and of office and business buildings, thus contributing to possible gentrification to other parts of Surrey.


In terms of transit hypothesizing, TransLink and Surrey should continue the apply the "debate and decide" approach to urban planning. Both parties should continue to explore options, using methods that include research, end-user-targeted focus groups, and examining other cities. It is doubtful that transportation demand management can be used; since demand management requires changing demand rather accommodating to it, it is unlikely that users will be willing to change their daily lives because TransLink demanded them to do so. A broad perspective of the transit issue in Surrey would see that more transit routes at a higher frequency would alleviate a bulk of the problems. Citizens who live further away from the city centre are highly car dependent and therefore would benefit from having more bus routes in their neighbourhoods. In regards to commuting outside of the city, a faster transit line would encourage Surrey residents to leave their cars at home. Connecting Surrey to its surrounding cities, such as Vancouver and Coquitlam, would also help reduce the amount of traffic congestion around the city centre and around the areas of the Port Mann Bridge and the Patullo Bridge. Surrey is looking to Portland Oregon as an example of a city that has efficient transit and a high frequency of transit riders. Portland's transit system includes the use of buses, light rail, commuter trains, and streetcars. [38].


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  25. University of British Columbia, Geography GIS database 2004
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  34. (
  35. Bunting, Trudi, Pierre Filion, and Ryan Walker. Canadian Cities in Transition. New directions in the Twenty-First Century. 4th ed. Canada: Oxford University Press, 2010. 267. Print.

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19.University of British Columbia, Geography GIS database 2004

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