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Analysis: Feasibility Study Biased Against Light Rail

The rapid transit feasibility study is a one-sided analysis that overstates the cost of providing light rail and fails to identify or measure its advantages.

By Nicholas Kevlahan

Here is my quick analysis of the rapid transit feasibility study.

Overall, it concentrates on pointing out the challenges associated with LRT and does not do a proper analysis of its benefits or advantages.

The terms of reference of the report effectively make BRT the default option, and the report considers whether LRT is at least as good as BRT. Analysis of the relative advantages of LRT appear as an afterthought, and are presented as hearsay.

Insisting on the original BRT routes leads to absurdities, like the requirement for two tunnels (!) on James Mountain, instead of using a lower grade access like Claremount.

Operating Costs Not Justified

The figure of $80 versus $175 / revenue hour / vehicle is not justified, and is the wrong measure since it doesn't take into account the number of passengers transported.

In addition, the figure of twice as many passengers for LRT is simply wrong. LRT carries 300 passengers in a one train configuration and 600 in a two-train configuration (e.g. Alstom Citadis) compared with about 120 for an articulated bus.

This gives factors of 2.5 to 5 times as many passengers.

I'm pretty sure it also does not take into account the projected costs of electricity and diesel in the future (i.e. over the twenty years of MoveOntario2020) or the longer service life and lower maintenance costs of LRT.

No Research into LRT Benefits

Most of the positive comments on LRT appear in the passive voice, or as the opinion of others "LRT is often thought of as being more permanent than BRT and as being able to provide greater economic spinoffs than BRT" and seem to have come from the Hamilton Light Rail website. (However, they still manage to misquote the name of our organization.)

The consultant appears to have done no independent research on these points. On the other hand, the positive aspects of BRT appear as the consultant's own opinions.

LRT Offers Superior, not Equivalent Service

The statement that "LRT offers the frequent, fast, reliable service that BRT does" is backwards, and implies that LRT is only as good as BRT. In fact, LRT offers superior service by a variety of measures.

Criticism of Overhead Systems Ignores Power Options

The report states:

Electrical supply and overhead catenary systems cannot serve both directions at the same time on one-way streets. This results in increased cost and visual impact.

Visual impact can be reduced by using new technology (batteries or pavement strip), and dedicated BRT would also not serve both directions at the same time.

High LRT Cost Due to Bridge, Tunnel Construction

The additional costs associated with the proposed James Mountain Access tunnels are likely to be a large part of the $1.1 billion estimated cost are completely unfair and unrealistic.

An unbiased assessment would choose an appropriate mountain route for LRT (like Claremount) and not insist on forcing LRT into the same route as BRT. This one piece of analysis undermines the credibility of the whole report.

No BRT Disadvantage Analysis

There is no analysis of the disadvantages of BRT compared with LRT, only of the disadvantages of LRT compared with BRT.

No Economic Impact Analysis

There is no serious analysis of the relative economic impact of the two systems. This should be a major (perhaps the major) component of the decision making process.