Is London headed in the right direction with our rapid transit initiative?
In November 2015, city council was presented with a Shift Update Report seeking confirmation of a “preliminary preferred” network option.
The report included four options, namely BRT Light, Full BRT, Hybrid (BRT/LRT mix) and Full LRT. The civic administration recommendation to council called for the hybrid option as the preliminary preferred option.
Council unanimously adopted the recommended option.
The planning department deemed that LRT, “can have a greater impact on the city’s image as a top-tier city in North America . . . The city image benefits of LRT can also apply to our institutions, helping them to present a world-class image, being connected to one another and our regional-provincial transportation hub by light rail.”
In hindsight, I’d like to provide a critical lens of London’s rapid transit strategy.
Trying to replicate transportation systems in other cities is not going to give London a “world-class image.” That’s because there is nothing unique about it that can put the city on the map.
But, the facts are clear, London is the largest city without rapid transit and the statistics prove that our transportation system has service deficits.
However, do we really want to spend almost $1 billion on a mixed bus rapid transit and light rail transit — which are not only outdated technologies but may not be convenient for a large portion of Londoners?
New and emerging public transportation technologies combine all of the convenience of today’s automobile along with the efficiency of mass transit; the hybrid option does not.
In fact here’s what the London Transit Commission said in a report regarding its service frequency: “It is a common misnomer to assume “rapid transit” means an overall faster transit trip. While the transit trip along the rapid transit corridor may be faster, given fewer stops and transit priority measures to enhance the speed at which the vehicles can travel, other transit trips, which will continue to be the majority given the existing road networks and layout of the City of London (urban form), may in fact take longer given the possibility of an added transfer to the rapid transit service. If the frequencies along the supporting transit routes are not enhanced, the transfer times for a rider transferring to/from a transit route could be such that the trip is no longer considered a viable option for the rider.”
In transportation planning, this is called “The last mile” problem.
There are many companies that are working on modern transportation projects around the world.
I have written about Personal Rapid Transit (PRT). But there is another transit option called the Straddling Bus.
The model looks like a subway or light-rail train bestriding the road. It is 4-4.5 m high with two levels: passengers board on the upper level while other vehicles can actually still use the road and go through and under it.
It was designed by a Shenzhen company called Hashi and built within a year in the Mentougou District of Beijing in late 2010.
According to the proposal, it would cost about $103.5 million to build it with a 40 km guideway. It’s between 30 to 70 percent cheaper than LRT.
A mixture of PRT and/or straddling bus is more cost-efficient and plausible.
Council has committed only $125 million to rapid transit. The project rests entirely on the willingness of Queen’s Park and Ottawa to pony up $775 million between them or 86% of the total cost.
During question period at the Ontario Legislature, London-Fanshawe MPP Teresa Armstrong demanded the province include the funding in the budget.
Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca responded by saying that it’s too soon to approve funding for it and the province is awaiting a detailed business case from the city.
This buys us time to ensure we’re choosing a path that is future-oriented with a modern transportation system that jumps at the opportunity of leading the race among other cities around the world.