London Free Press - December 1, 2017

LFP Turner BRT

With one of the highest riderships per capita outside of Toronto, Londoners are among the biggest 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 bursting at the seams, requiring investment, and long in need of an overhaul.

Consultation with Londoners on bus rapid transit (BRT) has 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 thousands of Londoners, businesses and neighbourhood groups. 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 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 during the next 50 years in the same way London has during the past 50 years will cost us an extra $2 billion compared to a more compact form of growth. That’s $40 million each year that would have to be raised from taxes.

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 into farm fields.

Rapid transit will allow us to reconfigure transit routes so we reach more places and more people.

After extensive consultation, final BRT routes were chosen 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, Western University, Fanshawe College, White Oaks Mall, Masonville Place, the core and all points in between. Forty per cent of residents and 60 per cent of London workers will be within walking distance of a BRT route.

There are many other benefits. 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 more than 4,000 person-years of jobs generated during construction resulting in more than $270 million in wages and more than $260 million in benefit to our gross domestic product. As well, Wharncliffe and Wonderland roads will have lanes added for traffic and we will build new underpasses along Wharncliffe and Adelaide Street.

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 per cent contingency, London’s BRT plan has one of the lowest costs per kilometre 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 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.

Stephen Turner is the London city councillor for Ward 11.

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