BRT can't simultaneously be far cheaper and more flexible than LRT while at the same time fixed and permanent enough to attract economic investment.
By Nicholas Kevlahan
Published May 06, 2014
Yesterday, Hamilton Spectator columnist Andrew Dreschel wrote a piece arguing that the City needs to do a comparison between light rail transit (LRT) and bus rapid transit (BRT):
Ted Gill, who was a senior director of transportation with the former Hamilton-Wentworth region, says it's time to reassess BRT in the light of new economic and technical realities.
More than six years after the City already carefully compared BRT and LRT alternatives in its planning for an east-west B-Line rapid transit system, now we are being told we need to do it all again!
The article is full of all sorts of contradictions.
It simultaneously assumes that BRT can provide comparable service to LRT "all things being equal" - "station locations, dedicated lanes, traffic signal priorities, high quality urban style, streetscaping, fare collection methods and modern vehicles," which would be very expensive - while implicitly assuming that the main argument for BRT is that it would be much cheaper.
Then it claims that "BRT has more flexibility than a fixed route," which is in direct contradiction with the "all things being equal" assumption that requires hundreds of millions of dollars of capital investment in a particular fixed route.
It makes the unsupported assumption that a diesel bus system of much lower passenger capacity vehicles could somehow operate at high enough frequencies to provide more capacity than LRT, and that LRT would for some unknown reason be limited to a frequency of 15 minutes.
It ignores the fact that LRT vehicles can carry two- to three times as many people as buses, and driver salaries are the biggest operating cost of transit systems.
It ignores the fact that BRT normally requires a new concrete road bed to support the heavy loads of buses - especially buses every seven minutes, as the article assumes. The vibration, if not the electric current, from that kind of bus traffic is at least as bad and usually worse than rail-based LRT.
It also ignores the Metrolinx Benefits Case Analysis (BCA) that directly compared the economic uplift for BRT and LRT and found LRT would provide far more direct and indirect economic benefits.
Most of all, it ignores the fact that the City already did exactly the study Gill and Dreschel are requesting, and came to the conclusion that LRT was the better system. Nothing new has happened in BRT or LRT technology since the Metrolinx BCA in 2009. Maybe Gill disagreed at the time, but his was a minority view.
In 2005, Gill joined McCormick Rankin Corporation - the very company that helped the City conduct the rapid transit feasibility study in 2008. He may even have been involved in the study itself, the first phase [PDF] of which had some serious methodological flaws that were subsequently addressed in the phase 2 report.
So, after spending over $10 million directly studying LRT and BRT, Dreschel wants us to throw all that work away and re-do the studies because some crucial aspect of the decision - we're not told what - might have changed in the last few years.
Or maybe he just wants council to take the musings of a former engineer over the huge amount of detailed engineering, urban planning and economic analysis that has already been done by city staff, Metrolinx, UK-based international transportation consultants Steer Davies Gleave and McMaster transportation researchers on this issue.
The people now lining up to push BRT over LRT, including mayoral contender Brad Clark, don't actually promise they would support the $300 million or so it would take to build it and the higher operating costs, together with the dedicated lanes, disruption and other challenges that are common to both technologies.
The sudden interest in BRT appears to be mostly concern trolling aimed at killing rapid transit in two steps rather than one. How strange that our paragons of fiscal rectitude are calling for the City to throw out the $10 million already spent on studying and planning rapid transit, only to undertake the same studies again!
Would it be too much for City Staff to patiently explain to the public and Council (again) why they decided that LRT is the preferred system after already studying both options?
Would it be too much for Council to remember why it already adopted a comprehensive transit plan - Rapid Ready - with LRT at its centre?
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