It’s Time to Rethink BRT in London

Daniel Hall
Oct 14, 2018 · 4 min read

The most expensive project in London’s history. Eight years of disruptive construction. Converting traffic-snarled car lanes to bus lanes. Only 3 minutes faster to get from downtown to White Oaks Mall on transit. How is the BRT plan good for London?

Before trying to determine if BRT is good for London, it’s helpful to understand why we need a transit system at all. We need public transit because:

  • It offers mobility to people who can’t or choose not to drive
  • It’s affordable (CAA estimates owning and operating a new compact car costs over $9,000/ year. A transit pass in London costs $972/ year)
  • It’s good for the economy: households who choose to ride transit have more spending money, and people and goods can get where they’re going without being stuck in traffic
  • It supports less expensive buildings, built closer together, since passengers don’t require parking
  • It reduces our environmental impact — one person switching from driving to taking transit can save 4,800 lbs of CO2 / year. (“Public Transportation’s Contribution to U.S. Greenhouse Gas Reduction,” Science Applications International Corporation, September 2007

For all of these reasons, public transit is a very good thing for London. So how do we maximize the economic, social, and environmental benefits? By encouraging more people to choose transit and by locating future development near transit.

Attracting passengers means addressing some of transit’s biggest weaknesses: reducing wait times, shortening travel times, and improving schedule reliability. BRT delivers in a big way on these three shortcomings. First, buses will come often — every 5 minutes on the North-East line and every 10 minutes on the South-West line. This will reduce wait times significantly, especially for passengers needing to transfer. Second, with dedicated lanes, BRT can avoid congestion and save travel time. Three minutes of travel time in one direction may sound arbitrary, but think of how much time that is for a typical work commute: two trips a day, 250 days a year is 25 hours a year in time savings. Finally, buses in dedicated lanes aren’t affected by traffic and can stay on schedule far easier. Passengers will be less anxious knowing the bus will show up when it’s supposed to.

Transit’s benefits are also maximized by locating future development near good transit. Again, BRT delivers by instilling confidence in developers with dedicated lanes and landmark stations — rapid transit won’t be easily relocated! It also increases the demand for housing and employment located along the rapid transit line. This future development creates new BRT passengers and increases the number of taxpayers while putting minimal added strain on the city’s infrastructure. BRT supports development that’s efficient, economically prudent, and environmentally sensitive.

With BRT delivering significant benefits, is it worth the cost, disruption, and impacts to traffic? Yes, yes, and yes!

75% of the cost will be paid by the provincial and federal governments. The majority of London’s share will be paid by the future development mentioned above — only $8/ year will be paid by London property tax payers. Not only do we get a truly transformational transit system for this price, but it will also pay for new sewers, water mains, and roads — all items we’d have to pay for anyway.

Construction is another major concern regarding BRT, for good reason — it can be extremely disruptive to our daily lives. Increased traffic, reduced revenues, noise, and detours can all reduce our quality of life. But there’s a reason summer is affectionately known as construction season — we keep building year after year because we recognize the headache of construction is worth it for maintaining or improving our infrastructure. BRT will be a substantial improvement of our existing infrastructure and significant efforts have been made to reduce it’s disruption: construction will be phased, alternative routes will be improved, and disruption now will mean less later.

Finally, there are concerns particularly on Richmond Street, that converting two traffic lanes to bus only lanes will cause traffic armageddon. The reality is that BRT coming every 5-minutes will be able to move more people than a regular lane of traffic does. Additionally, by widening Wharncliffe Road and building the Adelaide underpass, the alternatives to Richmond have gotten better. Some drivers will become transit riders, others will take Adelaide or Wharncliffe, and Richmond will move more people in the same space than it does now.

So a more accurate caption about BRT in London should read:

The best value project in London’s history. Moves more people in the same space. Significant travel time and wait time savings. Good for London’s economy, environment, and equality.

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