In its editorial on Saturday the Hamilton Spectator once again, as it has for the past 12 years, advocated for LRT over BRT, stating in part, “It’s not as if the comparisons between LRT and BRT have not been studied before. Back in 2015, the provincial transportation agency, Metrolinx, did a benefits analysis of the two options. It found that LRT, as it was planned before the province killed it, generated the “highest Transportation User Benefits.” It also found that the LRT option, which has the highest capital costs, “generated the most significant economic development effects and would have the biggest impact on “employment, income and GDP during construction.”
The study to which the Spectator refers is the same study that was criticized by the Auditor General who wrote: While the LRT option was tested against all land-use scenarios, the BRT option was tested against only the medium intensification scenario. Given this result, Metrolinx recommended in late 2014 that an intermediate business case, considering the changing context and alternative options, be completed before an investment decision was made. However, Metrolinx did not do any further analysis before the Province committed to funding the LRT in May 2015.The results of these analyses were discussed internally with the then CEO in late 2014. However, Metrolinx did not act on its findings to then critically assess whether it was planning and building the transit projects that would best serve the region.
Despite the concerns raised by the Auditor General, the 2015 report actually did raise some red flags. It did admit for instance, that the only way LRT could be made to generate a positive cost-benefit ratio was to assume a higher level of intensification than is being forecast in the Ontario government projections. Alternative land use scenarios: At standard growth projections, the LRT does not have a positive BCR—the benefits are less than the costs. However, in the medium intensification scenario, the LRT generates benefits equal to the costs and the BRT generates benefits of 1.5 times the costs.
The report also raised the issue of the impact of LRT on the rest of the city’s transit network. The Bay Observer looked into this issue and found that there would be major impacts for people who currently use the King, Delaware and Cannon buses. The report also noted “An LRT route will impose new transfers at each end of the route, although some existing bus routes will continue on the corridor with less frequency.
The report also raised the issue of gentrification, which is driving lower income families out of traditionally affordable neighbourhoods. As a key strategic goal of this investment is to incentivize urban redevelopment along the corridor, This could raise land values and benefit some people, including homeowners, and possibly make jobs more accessible to downtown populations, while also making housing less affordable.
And then, not once, but twice in the document, the authors seemed to be suggesting a BRT scenario that had never been given serious consideration in the 12-year campaign by LRT supporters, including the Spectator, to crowd out any possibility other than LRT. The report suggested: An option considering full BRT in the western downtown portion, continuing as BRT light in the eastern portion has not been considered in the BCA. It would align with growth forecasts without imposing new transfers, and could be a less expensive interim step to an eventual full LRT. Elsewhere in the document the authors expanded on this idea, suggesting that BRT with a separate right-of-way be built from McMaster to Ottawa street, with the buses continuing in mixed traffic to Eastgate.
Also, in its assumption the 2015 report assumed that Bus Rapid Transit would be operating with conventional internal combustion engines. This was a key factor in evaluating the relative merits of the two systems in terms of GHG emissions. In the five years since that report was produced, E-Buses have been rolled out in large numbers across North America, including Canadian cities such as Edmonton, London, Oakville and Guelph.
LRT supporters have relied on the belief that most members of the public won’t bother to check out some of the exaggerated claims on their own. The full text of the Metrolinx 2015 report is here. It’s 24 pages. http://www.metrolinx.com/en/regionalplanning/projectevaluation/benefitscases/2015-01-13-Hamilton-BC-Summary-Report-v4_5-with-note.pdf