There’s a big change to London’s plan for rapid transit.
In a statement released this morning, the City of London says a new business case shows the best model is full Bus Rapid Transit, instead of the hybrid model of BRT and Light Rail Transit previously endorsed by City Council.
The new model will cost an estimated $500 million, much less than the original $880 million price tag of a combined BRT/LRT plan.
“In as much as there were attributes that would be favourable for a hybrid, it became increasingly more clear to us that at this point in time, the best mode to recommend to Council for their consideration would be the full BRT, envisioning that the full BRT that we would put forward would be developed and planned with the eventual possibility to change into a hybrid system,” City chief administrator Art Zuidema said in a media briefing Friday morning.
The BRT-only project would see a 24 km system with rapid bus routes running from White Oaks Mall in the south to Masonville Mall in the north. The lines would run from Fanshawe College in the east to Wonderland Rd. North and Oxford St. West in the western section of the city.
The routes would feature dedicated bus lanes and stations as well as a rapid transit tunnel under the CP rail tracks at Richmond St. and Oxford. Officials say that tunnel could also be used by emergency vehicles.
It’s estimated riders would only have to wait between five and 10 minutes between buses.
Officials say they still plan to eventually incorporate Light Rail Transit, but the new business case envisions it rolling out in 25 years.
The updated business plan found that moving to a complete BRT system had the best cost-benefit ratio and the highest return on investment. There were three other options up for consideration: a base BRT model, the City Council-endorsed BRT/LRT hybrid and full LRT.
The full BRT system now being proposed would create an estimated $1.3 billion in transportation, environmental and economic benefits over the next 20 years, according to staff. It would also create 4,400 jobs in direct and indirect employment years, paying out $275 million in wages.
“It’s a combination of ridership, ridership projections, city growth, and also the elements of a financial partnership because we appreciate that we’re partnering with the upper levels of government and we need to make reasonable, rational choices,” said Zuidema.
As for when construction would begin on the BRT system, staff say once the necessary Environmental Assesments are complete, construction on the White Oaks Mall to Wonderland corridor could begin in 2018 with service starting in 2022. The Fanshawe College to Masonville Mall stretch could be open in 2026.
Officials say the City of London has already committed $129 million to the rapid transit project and will continue to bring the business case into focus in order to make pitches for financial support from the provincial and federal levels of government.
“We’re getting really positive feedback from the upper levels of government,” said Zuidema. “They’re very excited, they’ve been very positive about the city of London having a rapid transit plan, we’re the largest city in the country that doesn’t have rapid transit plan. We envision that they’re going to want to partner with us but we also appreciate that they have other concerns and considerations, and so we look forward to the time when Council will approve the business plan so that we can forward it to the upper levels of government.”
The new business case will be discussed by London City Councillors at next Thursday’s meeting of the Strategic Priorities and Policy Committee.