Dozens of residents packed City Hall today as a public participation meeting on the future of the city’s transit landscape took a large step forward.
Despite a firm majority of the public voicing their opinions for a hybrid light rail/bus rapid transit model, the Strategic Priorities and Policy Committee voted in favour of the city staff recommendation of full BRT.
The list of scheduled delegates, made up mostly of London residents, made arguments for BRT: it is cheaper, more flexible, and community friendly.
But the tune changed when the gallery was asked to speak. In reference to the approximately $880-million price tag associated with the hybrid model, one man said, “What’s wrong with asking for the best?”
Other speakers would bring up arguments about the hybrid model being more environmentally friendly, innovative, and less crowded.
What ultimately mattered, though, was the committee’s decision — to follow a staff recommendation on an approximately $500-million full BRT model.
Councillor Jesse Helmer was a strong advocate for the option that included light rail, and was disappointed by the final decision.
“I think what’s good is we did have the public meeting, we heard from the public. I think it helped us in our decision making and I think made good, reasonable arguments about why they preferred the bus option. As I said in the debate, we’re really talking about something that’s very good and something that’s excellent. So while I’m disappointed with the outcome, we can’t lose sight of the fact that the full BRT and rapid transit in general is going to be really good for the city of London.”
Helmer was outnumbered 10-5 in a vote to move the bus rapid transit case forward to council. Councillors Mo Salih, Virginia Ridley, Steven Turner, and Jared Zaifman were also opposed.
Mayor Matt Brown, on the other hand, was excited that the city was moving forward with, what will be, the largest infrastructure project in its history.
“This was a huge day for our community, a huge decision that councillors made this evening. We’ve made a step to recommend this to council, it’s going to go to council on May 31, and then we can take this business case to the province, to the federal government, to our funding partners, and move forward.”
Brown suggested that for those who were wishing for the hybrid model, they look harder at the BRT model and “understand that (it) will have a more frequent service than the LRT system would, cost hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars less, we’ll have the same infrastructure improvements, and can be completed in a more timely fashion.”
Full council will make a final decision on the business case next Tuesday.