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London, Ontario’s traffic and transit systems have been a topic of conversation for a long while. London is infamous for being home to “the worst drivers” and an inefficient public transit system. As the years have progressed, the existing issues with London’s traffic haven’t seen much improvement.

Instead, London has continued to expand in many ways, and with that expansion comes heightened congestion on the roads. London is the most extensive urban area in Canada without a rapid transit system. The absence of rapid transport makes the commute to and from school and work longer and more drawn out, and there doesn’t seem to be a solution in sight.

A future transit system has become inevitable for London, as it has seen an immense amount of growth in recent years. While a shift in transit is unavoidable, the city has seen plenty of controversy surrounding what type of transportation would be accomplished.

There were two transit systems suggested for implementation in the coming years. These included a Light Rail System and a Bus Rapid Transit system. The city of London saw the advantages in both and actually endorsed plans for a hybrid of the two. The estimated cost for this hybrid light rail/bus rapid transit system was a colossal $800M.

The Light Rail option seemed to be a no-brainer to many, while others advocated for Bus Rapid Transit only and the city took all options into consideration before coming to a final decision.

Ultimately, the city unveiled plans to implement a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system in the next decade. BRT is a controversial topic amongst many Londoners, and there are benefits and disadvantages to this implementation – as would be expected for any significant change to a growing city such as London.

Read on as we explore the technical specifications, controversies, misconceptions and future plans for the Bus Rapid Transit system in London, Ontario.

Bus Rapid Transit

What is Bus Rapid Transit? BRT is a bus-based transit system which is designed to boost reliability and efficacy of existing systems. The new system will replace existing lanes, which carry both regular vehicles and public transport with ones strictly for the BRT. This system will diminish the number of lanes for daily traffic and simultaneously ease up the traffic’s current stop-and-go motion behind busses.

The Route

The route of the BRT is quite simple and hits the most significant arteries of the city. It will have two rough courses, north to south and east to west.

North to south would run from Masonville on Richmond Street and down Western Road through Western University, then back to Richmond Street. It will continue south downtown and jog down to Wellington Road and proceed to Whiteoaks Mall.

The east to west route begins at Wonderland Road and Oxford Street West. The bus continues east on Oxford Street to Wharncliffe Road. From there it will jog south down Wharncliffe Road to Riverside Drive. From there it will keep east on King Street downtown, ending up on Dundas at the Western Fair. It will continue to Highbury then travel slightly north back to Oxford Street then continues to Fanshawe College.

Specifics of the System

Busses will be specialized which will run in dedicated lanes along the city streets with priority signals at intersections. BRT bus stops will be roughly four or five blocks apart and wait times between buses will range between five and ten minutes. There is hope that development clusters will grow around these BRT bus stops in residential areas. In the downtown area, there is hope that commercial development clusters will increase around these stops, thus boosting London’s economy and making it easier for non-drivers to get around the city.

The hope with the new system is to not only provide non-drivers with access to the city at large but also pull locals out of their cars and onto the bus. A unique feature of the BRT that will come in handy for many is its plans for extensions out to Exeter Road and the London airport. The former will help those commuting from outside of London by allowing them to leave their cars in a designated parking lot by the Bus Rapid Transit stop. From there they can hop on the BRT. This will enable commuters to arrive at their destination faster and without the stop and go frustration of rush hour in the city.

What People are Saying

From protests to common misconceptions, it comes as no surprise that some locals aren’t too happy about the bus rapid transit. A major change that has an impact on current conditions, and costs the government millions of dollars is bound to stir up some controversy amongst locals.

Luckily CBC news addressed these misconceptions, allowing some locals to feel at ease about the implementation. These misconceptions include that all the details are set in stone, the rapid busses won’t even be much faster than the existing bus routes, and trains throughout the city will impede this new system from running as efficiently as it should.

While the general details for the BRT were disclosed to the public, the notion that all plans are final is definitely a misconception. There are some features such as the general design for north-south, east-west routes, which are final.

However, the details of these routes such as: how the roads will widen, how the other bus routes will be implemented to the BRT, and whether or not the BRT lanes will be located on the side of the road or down the middle. When all extensive studies have wrapped up, and feedback from the city has been taken into consideration, the BRT plans will be finalised.

As far as saving time, a mere four-minutes will be brushed off these city routes. However, the implementation of more bus stops between routes will allow a quicker trip to the stop, thus saving time. Actual-time digital information at bus stops will allow riders to wait for less time at the stop, always knowing when exactly the bus is arriving. In addition to this, the new system will allow for transfers to happen more efficiently.

While the train impedes all traffic going through downtown, London, it only occurs a few times a day. The time that travellers will lose waiting at the train stop will be made up for in the rapid transit on either end of the train tracks.

Anti-BRT groups have been quite vocal about their dismay with the impending future of London’s transit. This is due to the simple fact that many businesses on the route anticipate losing traffic and foresee no choice but to relocate their business. In addition to this, many locals are displeased with the number of trees, which will be eradicated. “Up Shifts Creek” is an anti-BRT group that put caution tape upon many of the trees in some areas of the BRT route. This displayed roughly how many will be lost with this new transit system. Living in town called the Forest City, losing trees is bound to stir up controversy amongst locals.

How Much is it Going to Cost

So let’s talk budget. A massive transit shift like this is bound to cost the government a pretty penny. When it’s all said and done, the cost of the BRT is supposed to be around $500M. While this is not a low-cost implementation, it seems to be a necessary one for the way London is developing.

The city has committed to $130M while the province has agreed to $170M. It was announced quite recently that London would receive a decent share of the $33 billion in federal infrastructure funding across the country. The federal government has allotted $200M of that $33B to London’s transit shift. This portion will provide the city with enough funding to begin developing and planning.

$500m is undeniably costly. However, the city was teetering between implementing a light rail/bus hybrid system and the BRT. Ultimately, the $500m price tag of BRT is meek compared to the possible $800m the city would have had to round up to achieve the suggested hybrid system.

How Long It’s Going To Take

Talk about a new transit system began in 2015. In the fall of 2017, necessary pre-planning began for the BRT. This preparation is coined as the Transit Project Assessment Process (TPAP) and includes detailed investigation as well as preliminary engineering design.

Early 2018 saw the start of the six months long TPAP process. This process includes many different practices such as tree protection plans, environmental and cultural monitoring plans, travel demand, parking and access plans and final cost estimates.

In addition to this, formal public engagement with residents, businesses, Indigenous communities (or First Nations), Metis, review agencies, and other stakeholders will also take place.

Detailed design and construction are slated to start in 2019. Between the years 2020 and 2028 the Bus Rapid Transit will be up and running for riders. While this may seem like a very long time, this implementation is a major change for the city. It includes widening some roads. Wharncliffe Road has already undergone significant widening, as the city anticipates heightened traffic with the implementation of BRT on Richmond Street.

Conclusion

With a change as significant as this for the city of London, it comes as no surprise that there are those who disagree. Implementation in any urban area likely hasn’t gone without protest. Bus Rapid Transit is a reflection that London is expanding, growing, and becoming a city that can’t handle its existing transit. There is hope that this implementation will boost London’s economy by providing jobs and opportunity for commercial development clusters.

The goal of Bus Rapid Transit is to make London more accessible to everyone. Once the implementation is complete, there is no doubt that it will improve the efficacy of our existing bus system and allow non-drivers and commuters alike to reach their destination with greater ease.

What are your thoughts on Bus Rapid Transit? We’d love to hear all thoughts and opinions surrounding this controversial, yet inevitable shift for the city. Would you have preferred a bus-rail hybrid system? Get in on the conversation and tell us what you think!