London’s mayor is backing a recommendation by city staff to ditch the previously proposed hybrid bus rapid and light rail transit system, in favour of a cheaper option with only bus rapid transit.
Mayor Matt Brown said he believes it’s the best option for taxpayers.
“I think we need to jump on board and support this so that we can continue to finalize conversations with the provincial and federal government, so that we can get the program funded and ready to go,” he said on AM980’s The Pulse, Friday afternoon. “We can easily have shovels in the ground by 2018.”
One of Brown’s key campaign promises was implementing a new rapid transit plan for the city within next two years.
In a report last November, staff put four options forward, including the preferred hybrid option that Brown initially supported.
Now that a business case has been conducted, Brown is siding with city staff’s recommendation for a cheaper option.
“We are talking about significant amounts of taxpayer dollars, whether it’s $500 million or $800 million–it all comes from the same tax payer,” Brown said. “We owe it to Londoners to ask those difficult questions and make decisions that are based on financially credible logic and backed up by business cases.”
In a statement released Friday morning, the City of London said a new business case shows the best model is full bus rapid transit.
“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 of London manager Art Zuidema said.
Meanwhile, Councillor Jesse Helmer is standing by the hybrid model, arguing that the business case for the hybrid shows that the system will pay long-term dividends.
“It’s going to get us a slightly higher ridership, it’s going to have better land value uplift, larger short-term GDP gains, lower operating costs, higher additional revenue on the operating side,” Helmer said. “On every single measure in the business case–that matters to me–it’s better for hybrid.”
The new full BRT model will cost an estimated $500 million, much less than the original $880 million price tag of a mixed BRT/LRT plan.
Helmer says the hybrid model is attainable especially with the government funding that is now available for infrastructure projects, “There’s more funding available now than there has been in the past, partly because the federal government has come to the table in a major way that they haven’t before.”
“There are communities that I want to emphasize, where the transit ridership is lower than what it is already in London,” Helmer said. “York Region is a big area, they have less ridership than we do and they have two major rapid transit projects–the subway extension into York, and they have the Viva Bus Rapid Transit.
“The provincial government is putting in about $1,900 dollars per person into that project, if we wanted to do the hybrid in London we would need about $1,000 per person from the provincial government.”
Helmer says on a per capita basis, London would need about half of the funding that York is receiving from the province.
Brown will be driving the bus on the new recommendation when it stops for debate at the Strategic Priorities and Policy Committee next week.