Philip Mcleod

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Behind the shift in Shift

REPORT #1,133: Between 2006 and today, the rational for rapid transit in London shifted from creating a better public transportation system to development a different kind of city. While those concepts aren’t mutually exclusive, there are concerns London is drifting that way. 

Monday, Dec. 7, 2015 – LondonOntario

In the beginning, rapid transit was seen as the way to save London’s public transportation operation from its own success, and in the process shift more people out of their cars and onto the buses.

In 2006, when then general manager Larry Ducharme first proposed the concept of BRT to city council, it was to provide a backbone around which London Transit could be reorganized. 

BRT stands for bus rapid transit, an idea perfected and immensely successful in South America. Running on dedicated traffic free lanes with frequent service, the BRT would allow London Transit to realign its other buses to feed these new super-express routes.

Somewhere along the line that shift got shifted away from saving public transit toward building a different kind of city. While those concepts aren’t mutually exclusive, there are concerns London is drifting that way. 

While London Transit has been publicly supportive, privately there are worries London’s big Shift will give them the shaft, that scarce funds needed to provide better public transport will be shifted towards covering the loses of the light rail line between Fanshawe College, Western University and Masonville Place is expected to suffer for perhaps its first 20 years.

How did all that happen?

Good question, although it did not unfold in secret. The proponents of light rail as a way to give London some world-class buzz have been open and public about their ideas since at least the fall of 2009.

That’s when John Fleming, the city planner, and Sean Galloway, now the city’s manager of urban design, rolled out a concept map of modern streetcar lines running from the airport to Lambeth and Riverbend, from Masonville to White Oaks. 

At the time, they acknowledged streetcars aren’t again going to rocket through city streets anytime soon. But as part of our transportation planning for the future, we should see them as a viable option, we should start thinking about where they would run and begin clearing those right of ways, they argued.

Flash forward six years. City council has just given unanimous approval to the principle of a hybrid rapid transit system that includes light rail – modern-day streetcars, in effect – from Masonville to Fanshawe with the sharp turn at or near Dundas downtown, and fast buses from White Oaks to Wonderland-Oxford via the downtown. Total cost, about $900 million. 

Lambeth and Riverbend, not to mention Byron, Westmount and Argyle, will just have to wait, perhaps a long time.

Rapid transit in some form – with BRT essentially still it – was written into the city’s master transportation plan of 2012. The argument laid out was that taxpayers could save a ton of money if more Londoners could be convinced to park their cars and take the fast bus. Fewer cars means fewer costly road projects.

The theme was burnished some more in the London Plan, unveiled in 2014 – although not yet approved by council. City planners made the striking point London could save almost a billion dollars over the next 50 years if the city grew up more than out. And the way to do that was through a better, faster public transportation operation.

Shift geared up shortly thereafter, with the city’s engineering and planning departments in the drivers’ seats, not London Transit. No one should have been surprised when their recommendation was the hybrid with emphasis on light rail.

The light rail component, a report to city council last month claimed, “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 fact, when Mayor Matt Brown made a request to the provincial government for funding he actually asked for enough money to cover a total light rail system – $1.2 billion.

London is prepared to put up $125 million toward its new system. That other levels of government would be prepared to pay the remaining 90 per cent for the complete light rail system seems unlikely; for that matter, even picking up 86 per cent of the hybrid system seems overly optimistic.

For comparison, you might want to check out Larry Cornies’ very revealing piece in Saturday’s London Free Press. He points out Waterloo Region is putting up 31 per cent of the cost of a light rail line that will connect the cities of Waterloo and Kitchener; the feds contributed 32 per cent, the province 37 

Those numbers sound far more realistic, but where are we going to get another $154 million? 

Meantime, while plans continue to develop no other level of government has yet said yes to our request. Waterloo Region waited six years for a promise in writing. In the end the deal was sealed mostly because that region is expected to grow by 200,000 people in the next 20 years. London’s projections for the same period estimate population growth of 71,000.

That’s a size that suggests London should follow Ottawa’s example and start its transition to rapid transit with the BRT. The capital city rolled out the fast bus model in 1983. Only now is it expanding into light rail. 

That may not be a real Shift, but it does sound real smart.


Frfiday's McLeod Report on Radio: Prof. Mike Moffatt, fun with numbers; Councillor Jesse Helmer, what's after food trucks. CJBK radio 1290, 9:05 a.m.


# Shifting into a bottomless pit.Tucker 2015-12-07 02:36
Our City Fathers are still instructing our puppet, his sheep……rookies with …….wanting a dream…..a top tier city in North America…..a world-class image and guess what junior and wyneedalton agreed to picking up the tab. Although it was election time, don’t need to go any further in that direction do we, after all they are PROVEN lying liberals.

Londoners remember one thing and only one thing, in the end you will get the shaft…….every time, over and over PERIOD.
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# RE: Shifting into a bottomless pit.Emilyh 2015-12-07 18:37
If there's one thing Tucker knows it getting the
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# Shifting into a bottomless pit.Tucker 2015-12-07 21:14
Emilyh thank you for your comment.

Believe me when I say have never been shafted. Have always got my eyes and ears in the open position, hands on my pocket unlike you, believe you’re a hard core liberal, so at times it must be hard to feel wyneedaltons hands.
Please, understand am referring to her stealing your hard earned tax dollars.

Enjoy……the feel.
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# RE: Shifting into a bottomless pit.Emilyh 2015-12-13 01:52
Liberal? Never, I voted for Harper, Tory, Hudak and now support Brown.
My point was that you are an unintelligent little man who bullies those with a differing opinion.
You in no way represent us conservatives.
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# "A different kind of city" :)joneil 2015-12-07 02:46
This line caught my eye:

"Somewhere along the line that shift got shifted away from saving public transit toward building a different kind of city."

The book were I found that 1914 London street car transit map (which, BTW, had not 2, but THREE of the same routes 101 years ago as proposed today) was called this:

"London, Ontario - A presentation of Her Resources, Achievements and Possibilities." The whole point of that book, and also another book from 1914 : 'London, and it's Men of Affairs" was all about the London of the future. What the city was going to become and what it could become.

In other words, a new and different kind of city. Both books had full pages featuring the London Transit system, a rail line, and how it aided the city. Fast forward 101 years, and we are having the same arguments all over again.

What I cannot fathom for the life of me is how we can be a city than can rip down heritage buildings in a heartbeat for "progress", but we cannot allow our ideas and thoughts to "progress", instead we are still debating the exact same issues we had over a century ago. :(
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# Same layout says only that thinking has not changedLeila Paul 2015-12-07 23:58
London's a small city and its layout has not changed much, if at all. Inevitably the four corners of London's "known world" will result in the same perceptions of the high traffic areas.

BTW, the four corners of the known world is a term coined by the Sumerians 5-thousand years ago. They also invented the 60 second minute and the 60 minute hour, as well as the wheel, though some argue it was already invented in India long before. But it seems some in London want to reshape or reinvent the wheel.

Nothing is new so why should duplication of a layout be astonishing or remotely meaningful as though it's a business or growth prognosticator? We might as well resort to ancient divination practices for we have no way to accurately predict the future populace, its needs, or the city's ability to attract business that would justify LRT, or even BRT. Just plain efficient scheduling and reliability would be logical and affordable, such as size of vehicles meeting requirements of ridership specific to each route.
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# do it rightJeremy 2015-12-07 09:33
LRT has potential to make a lot of money. It will be more reliable than the current system or BRT. Companies will be able to offer employees a choice between parking package and a transit pass in their benefits packages where today it's currently only parking passes or subsidies. Parking issues is places like downtown, Western and Fanshawe will be relieved and surface level parking lots around the city will have higher incentives for development. BRT will always have snow and capacity issues therefore its reliability will be less. The capital costs are higher but so are the benefits
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# Jeremy, no wayCynic 2015-12-07 10:41
Transit systems do not make money, the operating costs are always subsidized, even in Toronto. There are breakdowns and crowding issues too. Deal with reality, not just what might happen. Even with handouts for downtown development, there will still be parking, even at Western and Fanshawe who have student transit passes, students still drive!
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# Rod BrawnRoderic Brawn 2015-12-07 10:57
I think one thing that would not cost in the billions of dollars, but maybe in the millions of dollars would be to make London a truly more bicycle friendly city. More exclusive bicycle lanes with good, lockable, sheltered and, perhaps, supervised parking areas for bicycles would lead to more riding of bicycles to work. There is no safe bicycle network in London. When councillor Gina Barber rode her bicycle to City Hall it demonstrated some potential. Her home is near an easily usable bikeway. Dangerous traffic and difficult intersections frighten potential cyclists in other areas of the city.
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# Ride before you decideGrandma 2015-12-07 13:08
I think it's high time that those planning for rapid transit ride it first. You need to see the problems in existing transit first hand before you can plan for the future. As it is the budget and program for existing transit leaves a lot to be desired. I have questions when the express bus downtown sits in the middle of the route while regular buses pass them. I have questions when paratransit is not efficient and effective. We need to define what we need for future transit once we have carefully looked at and ended the flaws in our current system.
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# Get RealJ. David Scott 2015-12-07 15:04
This used to be funny.Now, not so much. $900 million on a white elephant that will simply be a money pit? And for what? To give a few delusional people the idea that London is a "world-class" city? And provide rapid transit to very few people.
Paris, London England, Toronto, Vancouver, Madrid, Rome, Los Angles, New York...these are world-class cities. The only way London is a world-class city is if your world begins and ends at the Middlesex county borders.
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# Fix LTCTed 2015-12-07 15:59
I Council ,ants to improve the image of London, would the world not be far more impressed if we eliminated hunger and poverty?
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# RE: Behind the shift in Shiftbill brock 2015-12-07 17:02
Now the truth comes out! The Federal and Provincial are offering millions for transportation so people can move faster. London is gearing to build a system to force people downtown and special treatment for Post Secondary Facilities. The difference between today and even 50 years ago the city doubled it's size with annexation. The visions of politicians and staff for tomorrow; several times over, gave us today! Current Council and staff want to charge ahead. The actual growth for next 20 years is 70,000 people. Facts are that makes today different: Transit was the major way to get around with downtown the single shopping attraction and the manufacturing sector employing thousands of people on 3 shifts; buses running every 11 minutes from morning to night
and Springbank / Wonderland the major family gathering place. The fact of the matter is (Phil said it) this is the continued administration and political push for downtown! The promise of money gives way to need! The horses have left the barn. Kitchener has gone to private enterprise? LTC 2013 plan with buses to 2035. Big bucks in justification out.
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# RE: Behind the shift in Shiftbill brock 2015-12-07 17:42
Part 2: The way to go is to continue to expand transit increasing frequency and building ridership up. To go as Council wants today will be disastrous. Publication "Reunion London Heritage and Horizons' 1988 ( pg.29)states" The so-called Mall Wars erupted in1980........ London's downtown has not suffered. Note, today there is 3 major malls coming on stream far from downtown and accepted as part of London Plan and 2 major malls downtown have gone plus all the other major retail. Secondly, Free Press Oct. 12, 2002 article "Downtown: What's next" Few people walk between Richmond north and Dundas street. The multi million dollar expenditure( 85% paid by others) all to force people downtown. UWO campus 15 minutes walking from Richmond or Western Rd.. Much of current service is 15 minutes or less in
main corridors during rush hours. Do you want service based on need (add for growth)or control development to outer limits of city because no buses. Remember Lambeth and tax credits (no buses). Buy now; pay now and hope to recover 20-30 years later. City will grow to borders anyway; can't stop!
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# Locking the Barn Door After the Horse has EscapedLeila Paul 2015-12-07 18:14
We've already lost the reasons for London to grow economically and to attract entrepreneurs and energetic youth who will create new econimic dynamics. The days when we should have created a more efficient transportation system is long gone and reacting to past needs that no longer exist will not create new opportunities that duplicate past, lost opportunities. We are now on a ledge - if we're smart we'll stay here and not overburden ourselves with unmanageable debt, nor would we be so irrational as to expect a grossly deficit ridden province, soon to be emulated by the feds, to pour tons of money into London. There is no reaonable cause to expect that to occur. We'll be left with unfinished contructions projects with rail lines that will do nowhere.

We could be making ourselves the joke of the city off the beaten track whose council's illusions built a rainbown with no pot of gold at the end.

Meanwhile, we cruelly ignore our long-suffering homeless and hungry. Obscene does not even begin to describe such absurdities.
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# First Class CityWalter 2015-12-08 00:22
Our hospitals, universities, college and some companies acclaim themselves as First Class. Time to Put up or Shut ..
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# seanann 2015-12-09 15:27
Suggest Phil cks out guests before he has them on the show.Sean -um-ah-basicall y-etc. Brutal. And Phil please speak louder and avoid monotone pattern
Maybe there's a reason you are a print journalist.
Steve or Phil? No comparison.
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