I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the City of London’s proposed Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Project lately.
And based on the available evidence and conflicting opinions about the controversial project – the most expensive infrastructure effort in London’s history – I have reached the conclusion that it must be rejected in its present form.
In fact, I’m not even convinced that a Bus Rapid Transit as such is called for given London’s 20-minute city size by car. A better option, it appears to me, is a rationalized existing LTC service with more buses as necessity dictates, increased frequency and growth into the neighbourhoods and areas of the city currently under-served or not being served at all.
To be sure, the current project appears to me to be essentially the brainchild of Shift, a relatively small but very vocal group of young urban millennials, who are convinced that BRT must be built to serve the student populations of Western University and Fanshawe College in the fleeting hope that graduating students will be so grateful that they will stay in London, live, work and raise families here. Many of these supporters are also people who are disappointed that their original goal of a Light Rail Transit (LRT) system, complete with a very expensive tunnel under Richmond Street, was rejected by city council who saw the folly of such a plan prompted by a backlash of vocal opponents like Downshift and downtown merchants. BRT will have to do in its place.
Sound silly? Of course, because it is.
Out-of-town young people will continue to attend London’s fine post-secondary institutions and upon graduation, go where the jobs are. In essence, follow the money, just like they always have and always will.
To put it in perspective, just imagine for a moment that every student who has ever attended Western or Fanshawe remained in London. The city would be bursting at its seams and have a huge surplus of cheap labour with a diminished manufacturing base and limited opportunities in the much vaunted high-tech sector, which, after all, employs relatively few workers per company.
BRT proponents will counter this argument with the claim that many of these students will bring much-needed entrepreneurial skills to the city. Fair enough, but successful entrepreneurs are in reality few and far between. If they weren’t, we would all be millionaires. It’s like saying every boy or girl born in Canada has the opportunity to become Prime Minister some day. Sounds good, but not based in reality as a lot of other socio-economic factors come into play.
Vocal critics like Shawn Lewis, mayoralty candidates Paul Paolatto and Paul Cheng, former London Free Press reporter Chip Martin, and the lobby group Downshift, argue that BRT must be revised to meet the needs of all Londoners, especially those who would still be left out in the cold by the proposed routes, or be scratched outright.
It’s clear as the nose on your face that BRT will be the major issue in the coming municipal election in October 2018.
Mayor Matt Brown (who has announced he will not be running for re-election) and most of the other city councillors have essentially hinged their political careers on BRT and are fighting hard to see it through fruition, despite mounting public pleas and demands to slow down the process. Opposing them are announced mayoralty candidates Cheng and Paolatto, and maybe Shawn Lewis, and other council candidates who have yet to identify themselves.
Many, like Martin, believe that BRT will be the downfall of Brown and his sycophants:
“This council will learn what rejection is all about.
Its members have repeatedly backed the Shift plan at every twist and turn. The occasional word of wisdom has come from Coun. Phil Squire, whose ward faces major dislocation. The bus plan, the largest capital project in city history, has become divisive in London because of the way it has been rushed, promoted and rammed through. Voters are unhappy.
Mayor Matt Brown, whose leadership skills and expertise seem limited to ribbon cuttings and greetings to gatherings, with a sideline of adultery, will not be a factor. Expect him to find a post somewhere to avoid his inevitable humiliation at the hands of voters. Many of his backers from last time have fled.”
So here we are only eight months away from what will undoubtedly be one of the most contentious and acrimonious elections in London’s history.
The battle lines are drawn and the level of citizen engagement is sure to increase dramatically over the weeks and months to come.
Now that Matt Brown has voluntarily removed himself from the equation, it remains to be seen which city councillors will step up to take a leadership role in promoting BRT. But one must wonder if the project will not lose much of its momentum with its biggest proponent sitting on the sidelines during the coming municipal election campaign
Unlike some of the more strident BRT supporters like Shawn Adamsson, Gary Brown and others, it is not my place to tell Londoners how to vote or denigrate them for not sharing my point of view on the project.
I can only suggest that based on the available evidence and conflicting arguments, I am of the opinion that the present BRT proposal be rejected and revised to meet the needs of all Londoners, rather than the “big city” aspirations of a vocal minority.
Revised April 9, 2018
March 3, 2018