Rapid Transit is But Just One Part of Building a Great City
(As published in the London Free Press on December 1, 2017)
With one of the highest riderships per capita outside of Toronto, Londoners are amongst the most prolific users of transit in Ontario. More than 23 million trips are taken by bus in London each year. However, London Transit Commission (LTC) receives one of the lowest municipal subsidies of transit services in the province. This has left us with a system that is bursting at the seams, requiring investment, and long in need of an overhaul.
Direct consultations with Londoners on Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) have been ongoing since 2006 through some of London’s largest public engagement exercises. These include SmartMoves 2030, The London Plan, and Shift. City staff and councillors have gone to festivals, malls, libraries, and ward meetings. We’ve talked with literally thousands of Londoners, businesses and neighbourhood groups to get invaluable feedback. This has helped identify the best routes, choose the right technology, and develop the best design. In short, we’ve been doing a lot of listening and, rest assured, we’re going to do a lot more.
Rapid transit isn’t just about moving people on buses. It’s about building a sustainable city. Continuing to develop the same way London has over the past 50 years will cost us nearly an extra $2 billion over the next 50 years compared to a more compact form of growth. That’s $40 million each year, which would have to be raised from you in the form of taxes (equivalent to an 8% tax increase). We need to build our city in a way that makes more efficient use our infrastructure and services. Rapid transit corridors are proven to attract development and business, and this can help decrease the need to build out on to farm fields. Additionally, rapid transit will allow us to reconfigure our conventional transit routes so that we can reach more places and more people to get the best benefit from our investment. This is how we save you money and it’s a significant way you benefit from rapid transit even if you’re not a transit user.
After extensive consultation, the final BRT routes were chosen considering numerous alternatives in order to have the lowest impact to businesses and residents while providing access to the greatest number of Londoners. These routes will serve St. Joseph’s, University and Victoria Hospitals, UWO and Fanshawe College, White Oaks and Masonville malls, the core and all points in between. This area holds the greatest density of London’s workers and residents. Forty percent of residents and 60% of workers will be within walking distance of a BRT route.
There are many other benefits to Londoners that come with the construction of BRT. Land values along the rapid transit corridor will increase as will patronage of our local shops and services. Much of our aging infrastructure underneath the rapid transit routes will be replaced during construction. There will be over 4,000 person-years of jobs generated during construction resulting in over $270 million in wages and over $260 million in benefit to our GDP. As well, Wharncliffe and Wonderland will have lanes added for traffic while we build long-awaited new underpasses along Wharncliffe and Adelaide.
Sound financial stewardship will be essential. London has held a triple-a credit rating longer than any other municipality in Canada and we’re not going to put that at risk. At $500 million, which includes a 50% contingency, London’s BRT plan has one of the lowest costs per kilometer and one of the best returns on investment of any rapid transit project in the province. By leveraging $117 million in development charges along with federal and provincial funding, Londoners share through property taxes is only $13 million of the total 10-year project cost. For comparison, we spend $140 million of your money on roads each year.
I hope you’ll take the opportunity to visit ‘shiftlondon.ca’ or come to one of the many meetings ahead to share your thoughts and learn more. Rapid transit is just one part of a complex puzzle in building a city to meet the needs of all Londoners.