BRT vs. LRT. Look past the construction costs.

By Dan Jelly

Most people who support BRT over LRT for Hamilton seem to stop their analysis at the construction price tag.  Napkin-based analysis does confirm that LRT is more expensive than BRT once you throw out all other numbers.  However, many are forgetting that if we build a proper BRT system we’re going to also have to pay higher staffing, insurance, fuel and maintenance costs, all of which the City will have to pay for, not the Province. In short, BRT will require a property tax increase, potentially one greater than LRT might, depending on how much funding we can get from whichever party forms a government next month.

I get it, $811 million is a LOT of money to spend all at once, but the operating costs of BRT could prevent us from improving bus services elsewhere in the city, it won’t bring the same economic benefits, increased property values and increased tax revenue, and unless there are substantially more buses put on the road in the east-west corridor it might not even solve the overcrowding problem we’re seeing on even the 60-foot buses we’re experiencing now. Our Rapid transit problem can’t just be about speed, it HAS to be about making sure people aren’t left standing at bus stops (for the numbers people, their effective speed is 0km/h).

I fear that if we build BRT, we’re doing to discover it’s completely inadequate and too expensive to operate. It will also be very susceptible to political interference. Eventually the Tom Jacksons and Terry Whiteheads of the world will push for compromises in the BRT system, more unnecessary stops, more needless signal and lane compromises for car traffic, etc. We’ll end up with an expensive system that is both disruptive to drivers, and useless as an alternative to driving.

My greatest fear is we’ll build BRT, and then a few years down the road we’ll realise it was an awful idea, but we won’t be able to replace it with an LRT because we’ll be broke, and there will be too much congestion and a BRT system in the way.

Yes, we should be having the LRT vs. BRT discussion, but so far I haven’t seen any pro-BRT folks come to the conversation with all the facts.  That must change if we want to make the right decision.

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