Saturday, September 04, 2010

BRT not a Viable Plan "B"

Now that we know how much the federal government is willing to contribute, it’s clear that the Region of Waterloo can’t afford the proposed LRT. The combined provincial/federal contributions leaves $235M to the Region and that is too much for us to carry. LRT is dead.

Well, not really. Now there's talk of going to the Region's Plan B, Bus Rapid Transit, or shortening the LRT route.

In the BRT plan, curbs are inserted in the middle of our streets so that buses can run in dedicated lanes. The BRT has many of the disadvantages of LRT:

  • It costs hundreds of millions to build.
  • It puts a disproportionate amount of our resources on one route.
  • It prevents cars from turning left except at designated intersections.
  • It disrupts car and bike use of the street.
  • It disrupts other use of the street, including parades and festivals.
  • The route is very difficult to alter.
  • It is inconvenient for transit users because the stops are so infrequent.
  • It creates an accessibility issue for seniors with walkers, parents with baby strollers, and the like.

The iXpress, which runs high tech buses on the same route as BRT, is no slower than BRT and costs one or two percent of BRT. (The iXpress route, including marketing, cost $9M. Of that, the buses cost $4M.) There is simply no reason to spend over $500M creating curbs in the middle of our streets.

In fact, it boggles the mind how the Region could propose creating a single bus route that costs $550M. In Toronto, dedicated bus lanes have nothing more than some diamond shapes painted on the pavement.

Building a shorter LRT route sounds like it might be equally crazy, but I haven't seen a proposal yet so I can't be sure. When I was in Istanbul in the early 90s I thought their two-station subway system was quite useful, so I'll withhold judgment - but with reservations.

I dearly wish that LRT were dead, for one simple reason: we're about to embark on a municipal election season, and it would be great if we could seriously discuss how to improve transit, rather than fight over this ridiculous, over-priced, destructive plan.

We could discuss initiatives such as the following:
  • Running multiple iXpress routes.
  • Forming a fleet of minibuses that run on little-used routes.
  • Creating an on-demand transit system for the elderly and poor families.
  • Implementing marketing programs such as cheap family passes on weekends.
  • Running more buses to festivals, events, the Aud, and so on.
  • Creating a free shuttle.
  • Reducing fares.
  • And on and on...

We could take a step back and look at other issues around transit:
  • Transforming our sprawl into a livable city.
  • Making sure our transit system is adequate for the needs of people who have to take transit.
  • Identifying people who don't take transit but would like to, and finding how we could get them to use it.

We’re the community that got designated the world’s most intelligent. Why have we spent two years chasing the old failed trend of rapid transit? It all comes down to the way LRT was pushed on us. There were fake public consultations (I say they were fake because I went to them) and there was never any real needs assessment: someone at the top of the Region conceived this notion and forced it through the system. Here's an example: about 18 months ago a city hall committee I'm on met with rapid transit planners. At that time my committee included a former mayor, former city councillor, and former regional councillor, and we had spent a lot of time researching and discussing the issue. Over a couple of hours we discussed our concerns with the regional employees, and they didn't take a single note. They didn't even bother to get out a pen or notepad. They hedged most of our questions. It is really no wonder why we ended up with an LRT plan that would have killed uptown Waterloo, been an enormous white elephant and drained funding from the rest of the transit budget. It was a vanity project.


5 comments: said...

Are you familiar with the Regional Transportation Master Plan, and the very substantial transit improvements region-wide it will provide funding for?

There are two primary drivers for this light rail project: helping to attract more of the Region's growth to the cores, and dealing with transit demand along that corridor. Running routes elsewhere and other improvements would help little in limiting sprawl and achieving the provincial reurbanization aims. And as I've pointed out, we will need substantial infrastructure in the central corridor to handle transit demand -- double the current bus frequency is essentially the upper limit. Waiting until bus gridlock happens is not a sound strategy.


Yappa said...

Hi Michael,

I think we've been down this road before: we just disagree. And yes, I'm familiar with the master plan.

What I was trying to do was initiate a discussion about transit that transcended the old yay/nay debate about LRT. And as I've said before, the iXpress route could be expanded greatly beyond two times its current limit. Not only could buses come much more frequently, but they could be bigger. Added to that, for the really busy portions of the route there could be short-routed buses, a practice done regularly in Toronto.

The LRT was planned to create deliberate gridlock: how else do you explain King-Erb and Erb-Bridgeport-Caroline, among other intersections that would have become chaos with the LRT. We will have much less gridlock without the LRT, and without curbs creating dedicated bus lanes in our streets.

Having gone through the LRT "planning" process, I have lost faith in the current transit planners at the Region. I would like these issues to be opened up in the upcoming election campaign - not just reactions to the Region's plans, but from first principles: what do we need to provide; what do we want; and how do we get there.

Bert said...

Hey Yappa. What do you know ?. Something that the federal government did, that we can BOTH agree on was not good (federal contributions to the LRT).
Lookit that blue moon. ;-)

Sylvan said...

The RTMP already calls for multiple iXpress-style bus corridors. These are approved and funded, and they will happen in the next five years or sooner.

Minibuses are already used for BusPlus routes.

GRT has always accepted cash fares, just like every other transit agency.

I would suggest that you familiarize yourself with our existing and planned transit services, as I think you would find that many of your ideas have already been considered.

Yappa said...

Once again: I was just trying to suggest other things we could be talking about, rather than this endless debate about LRT (and I was listing ideas off the top of my head). So much time has been [to my mind] wasted on this unaffordable, unrealistic project. I have been collecting letters to the editor against LRT, and I currently have 73 ( That's by no means all... just the ones I found in the Record and Chronicle. Of all the intersting and productive things we could be talking about, I'm just feeling... fed up.

But now I guess I have to muster my resources to continue to oppose the LRT in the election campaign.