REPORT #1,130: A report going to city council tonight argues the future of London would be best served by spending upwards of one billion dollars to install a rapid transit system that included light rail, as opposed to a system that used rapid bus technology alone. Light rail, the report says, has a more ‘world-class’ cachet.
Monday, Nov. 9, 2015 – London Ontario
A single paragraph of 118 words out of almost 8,000 is used to justify why, in a report to city council to be discussed tonight, the civic administration is recommending a 300 per cent increase in the proposed cost of London’s rapid transit future.
LondonOntario, the report argues, doesn’t need fast buses to move people around the Forest City in the future. It needs fast streetcars – or light rail trains (LRTs) as they are henceforth to be known.
The paragraph in question starts at the bottom of page 13 in the document you’ll find at the other end of this link and continues to the top of the following page. The two critical sentences are these:
“LRT can have a greater impact on the city’s image as a top tier city in North America,” the report states. And then, three sentences later, adds: “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.”
Well golly gee wilikers. Who knew? World-class. Us. Little ole LondonOntario. And for just a measly $1,000,000,000 (that’s one billion dollars for those afraid of so many zeroes).
(Also it’s all our money, yours and mine, whether it comes through the city’s bank or those used by Queen’s Park or Parliament).
(Also again, it’s a helluva lot of money, some $600,000,000 more – that’s six hundred million dollars more – than the projected cost of using fast buses (Bus Rapid Transit or BRT it’s called) which, whatever their alleged lack of cachet in the international marketplace, are equally as capable of getting people around the community quickly, perhaps more so).
There’s a lot that stretches credulity in the report council will discuss tonight, one that recommends without a moment’s hesitation that our elected leaders rise up immediately and support it, then begin three months of sophisticated brain-washing to convince the rest of us.
That LRT is the road to world-class, however, is at the top. It’s hard to know where to begin to refute the argument, perhaps because the term ‘world-class’ is so difficult to define. On the other hand, I feel on safe ground in proclaiming LondonOntario will not ever, in my lifetime nor yours, indeed not in the lifetime of my children and grandchildren nor yours, be regarded as a world-class city by anyone other perhaps than the mayor, some members of council and possibly some of the five people who signed this report. (1)
In 2009 Forbes magazine took a tongue-in-cheek try at answering the question of what makes a world-class city. Didn’t see LondonOntario as being likely to land anywhere on the list.
More recently the Stanford University Review took a run at it. What they decided was world-class we don’t want to be anyway.
Most commentaries seem to suggest size and economic clout are prerequisites. On that basis Canada has but one world-class city, near the bottom of the list. It ain’t us.
Efficient transportation systems are certainly seen as important economic drivers for cities, world-class or wannabees. But does efficient mean LRT?
That very question was raised in an analysis of 21 North American transit systems, including Ottawa, by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy in New York. It made the point that rapid transit does not by default mean light rail, concluding bus rapid transit systems not only work well, but cost far less.
“A growing number of American cities are promoting transit-oriented development in order to combat congestion and other problems associated with sprawling, car-dominated suburban growth,” the institute said. “Many are planning rail-based mass transit investments like light rail transit (LRT) and streetcars, hoping they will stimulate transit-oriented development, but are finding the costs to be crippling.
“Increasingly, cities in the U.S., finding themselves short of funds, are wondering whether BRT, a lower cost mass transit solution initially developed in Latin America and a relatively new form of mass transit in the U.S., could also be used here to leverage transit-oriented development investments.”
Ironically a link to the institute's report was circulated some months ago to his Twitter account followers by Ed Soldo, the city’s director of roads and transportation, and the very chap who penned the report going to council tonight. Every council member should read it before voting.
Admittedly, LondonOntario used to have streetcars, back in the day when the best of our historic buildings were still standing and the city has far more national clout than it has today, or probably ever will have again.
So, one supposes, for our billion bucks we are proposing to bravely move toward world-class status by going back to the future. Good luck with that.
(1) The report, titled SHIFT Rapid Transit Update, was submitted by Ed Soldo, director of roads and transportation for London. It was reviewed and concurred by Kate Graham, director of community and economic innovation; John Braam, managing director, environmental and engineering services and city engineer; and John Fleming, managing director planning and city planner. It was recommended by Art Zuidema, the city manager, who therefore is ultimately the person at City Hall pushing this proposal. It is also recommended by Mayor Matt Brown.