London needs Light Rail
Back in November 2015, city staff recommended a hybrid light rail transit (LRT) and bus rapid transit (BRT) network and city council adopted that network as its preliminary preferred alternative for rapid transit with a 15-0 vote. On 29 April, city staff released the draft Shift rapid transit business case and recommended a bus-only network that could be converted to light rail decades later (if ever). Some councillors now prefer the bus only network while others (like me) are advocating for the hybrid LRT/BRT network.
City council will be making a final decision sometime later in May on its preferred option.
Here are 16 reasons why we need light rail transit (LRT) in London and the hybrid LRT/BRT network is the best possible option in the Shift rapid transit business case.
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More money up front means less spent on operations. The LRT/BRT hybrid has the lowest operating costs of all four options and saves $19 million compared to full BRT.1 As the city will be ultimately responsible for operating costs, this is a big factor in long-term sustainability.
Light rail means $210 million more in short-term GDP gains, including much-needed economic stimulus from construction activity and a $25 million dedicated maintenance facility for light rail vehicles in East London.2
It’s possible. The business case for the hybrid LRT/BRT is strong and ranks high against all of the recent rapid transit projects in Ontario that have already been funded by the provincial and/or federal governments.3 The benefit-cost ratio of 1.1 is positive, showing a 10% financial return on a major infrastructure investment.
It’s affordable. We need $2,000 per capita in some combination from the provincial and federal governments over the next ten years to make this project happen. That level of investment is similar to the combined provincial and federal investment per capita in rapid transit projects in other cities in Ontario.4
- We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity. For years, the province has been leading the way on transit infrastructure, in particular in the GTHA through Metrolinx. Now that we have a federal government that has committed to invest $20 billion over ten years into public transit, and a provincial commitment of $15 billion for infrastructure outside of the GTHA, we need to seize this opportunity.
A smoother, quieter ride and a definite end to overcrowding on rapid transit routes. A less crowded, more enjoyable transit experience encourages greater ridership retention and higher ridership growth, especially among folks who require more space like parents with kids in strollers and Londoners who use a mobility device. In financial terms, forecasted higher ridership translates into an additional $10 million in fare revenue compared to full BRT5 and and the highest transit mode share, at 16.8%.6
It’s greener and healthier, providing bigger local impacts on health (+13.6%), safety (+13.9%), greenhouse gas emission reductions (+13.8%) and air quality (+14.2%). And that’s assuming that the buses for BRT are powered by electricity rather than burning diesel!
Light rail has greater potential upside to encourage transit-oriented development and intensification. As the physical embodiment of our commitment to the more compact and more affordable city envisioned in the London Plan, it also provides our best chance of achieving our 45% intensification target. Total land value uplift is expected to be 22% higher with LRT than with just BRT.7
It sends a strong signal to employers who are competing fiercely for talent with companies in mid-size cities like Kitchener, Waterloo and Hamilton, which are building LRT, and larger cities like Toronto and Ottawa, that our city is willing to take risks and transform how we move and how we grow in a big way. If we want to be the startup capital of Ontario, we can’t let other cities out-compete us on transit infrastructure investment that pays long-term dividends.
A light rail vehicle is visually distinct from a bus and would be a stronger brand to market transit as an alternative to folks who are currently not taking transit, including thousands of employees at major employers on the route like TD Canada Trust, London Life, the City of London, St. Joseph’s Hospital, Western University, Thames Valley District School Board and Fanshawe College, reducing demand for expensive employee parking.
Light rail is well-matched to the urban form of the older neighbourhoods along the route, including Old East Village, Woodfield, Downtown and Old North, areas that were built out when we had an extensive streetcar system in London, and will contribute to the unique sense of place of these great neighbourhoods.8
It’s a part of our heritage and it helps to preserve our heritage. Light rail provides the best opportunity for urban regeneration, adaptive re-use of older industrial buildings, continued revitalization of our downtown and the commercial corridor in Old East Village, and increased occupancy of office space in downtown buildings that lack parking spaces.
Fewer vehicles providing more capacity per vehicle means fewer overall transit vehicles on campus at Western and Fanshawe and 29% fewer interruptions of vehicle traffic at intersections with transit signal priority along the Northeast route.9 That means campuses are safer for pedestrians and folks in cars spend less time waiting for transit vehicles to pass.
Light rail would provide significantly more capacity within the initial fleet than full BRT, which allows for ridership to grow without having to add more vehicles to the fleet to accommodate the growth.10
Light rail vehicles cost more upfront but last longer, and the capital costs for replacement buses are not included in the business case for BRT. Capital costs for replacing the initial fleet of buses, or expanding the bus fleet to meet increasing ridership demand, may not be cost-shared with the provincial or federal governments in 2031 when they need to be replaced.11
Light rail vehicles would be highly visible to people visiting our city for the first time, help form their first impressions about our city, and contribute to a more modern, more urban brand for London.
- Savings are over the planning horizon of 2019-2050, expressed in NVP 2016$.
- $486.2 million in short-term GDP gains compared to $272.9 million for full BRT. See page 62 of the draft Shift rapid transit business case.
- Our benefit cost ratio of 1.1 matches or exceeds the ratios of the Waterloo region LRT (0.75), Hamilton LRT (1.1) and York region BRT (0.9), three municipalities with lower existing transit ridership than London’s. It also compares favourably to Toronto projects like the Crosstown LRT (0.52), Finch West and Sheppard East LRT (0.7) and the Yonge North subway extension (0.8). See this sheet for more details.
- $2,000 per capita would be in line with combined provincial and federal per capita investments in recent transit projects in Mississauga ($1,855), York region ($2,233) and Hamilton ($2,067), more than Waterloo region ($1,333), and less than Toronto ($3,408) and Ottawa ($3,830). See this sheet for more details.
- $83.1 million in additional revenue for the hybrid including LRT compared to $73.1 million in additional revenue for full BRT (NPV 2016$). See page 62 of the draft Shift rapid transit business case.
- See page 24 of the draft Shift rapid transit business case.
- $110 million in land value uplift compared to $90 million for full BRT (NPV 2016$). See page 62 of the draft Shift rapid transit business case. In the Region of Waterloo, the value of construction in their central transit corridor was $546 million in 2014, a 12% increase over the baseline year of 2011 (see pages 60-62 of the Region of Waterloo’s November 2015 baseline monitoring report).
- Our streetcar system opened on 24 May 1875 with service along Dundas St from Ridout to Adelaide. The headquarters of the London Street Railway (LSR) were located at Dundas St and Lyle St. See http://ltconline.ca/Pubs/History.pdf for highlights of our 65 years of streetcars in London.
- Using the assumed service level headways of 5 minutes for BRT and 7 minutes for LRT, as outlined on page 17 of the draft Shift rapid transit business case, that means 12 buses per hour and 8.5 light rail vehicles per hour.
- Total fleet capacity for full BRT would be 30 buses @ 70 = 2,100. Total fleet capacity for hybrid LRT/BRT would be 11 buses @ 70 + 15 LRVs @ 170 = 3,320.
- The estimated lifecycle of a bus is 12 years, so we would need at least 2 fleets of 30 buses for full BRT over the planning horizon of 2019-2050, assuming no increase in service frequency from 5 mins. The estimated lifecycle of a light rail vehicle is 30 years.
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