Buses & London’s petty civil war #Ldnont

I wasn’t going to post more on London’s bus rapid transit but the debate going on right now has me seeing red flags from both sides and I’m coming up with plenty of questions. The now entrenched camps have signs and funds making any form of compromise implausible. Where both sides are coming from is the past, the anti-BRT side wants to remain with cars, parking, and the status of being able to afford a car, while the pro-BRT side is stuck using a London transit map from c.1914.

Both sides in this debate are triggering my bull shit alarm. The down shifters are anonymous behind signs and tactics straight from the tobacco lobbyists of the late 20th Century. The pro side aren’t anonymous but they still haven’t shown how this will function, who is benefiting from it, nor how to protect BRT from future councils stacked with anti-BRT members. We’re in a Sergio Leone movie’s cemetery having a standoff, problem is both factions think they’re Clint Eastwood when they’re not even Eli Wallach.

Both sides of this polarized debate are focused on the transportation aspects and not the social justice. Some of the poorest people in London rely on a very inadequate LTC, BRT in the current plan will make little improvement and may make some people worse off. Already London has enforced car usage for those who work in the suburbs or industrial areas of the city. Reliance on the LTC is a guaranteed way to be denied employment, just check indeed postings. The anti-BRT people have offered nothing to change this, and the pro-BRT people have shown little evidence they even care.

My problem is not that we are trying to adopt BRT, its that BRT is stuck in the old mindset of bus routes have always gone through downtown, so must always go through downtown. Doctors who are taking new patients do not have offices within the main transit zone, nor do any of London’s blue collar employers, and most of the subsidized housing will be one or two buses beyond the BRT lines. All the research I’ve seen shows these big transit projects are for the convenience of affluent people.

I’ll give BRT advocates the benefit of the doubt that they’ve studied these questions, now please show us the findings:

  • How many poor households will need cars because of BRT?
  • How many poor households will be gentrified from the transit zone?
  • Will low cost housing be built in the transit zone exclusively?
  • How long will people’s commute be going from one suburb to another?
  • What is the city budgeting for increased policing costs of transit deserts, and how is the city going to prevent transit deserts from becoming ghettos?
  • Why can’t London adopt point to point transit? How many people would be diverted from the congested routes if alternative routes were available?
  • Why adopt a route system that is crippling/failing other cities and costing billions to correct? Will there be money put aside to correct these mistakes when hubs and spokes are overwhelmed by people being diverted to them?
  • What prevents bus lanes being turned to HOV lanes by future councils?
  • Why is a single point of failure built into the system? What is the diversion plan?
  • When BRT costs go up where are the guarantees the other routes won’t be sacrificed or the system be allowed to collapse from neglect?
  • Why is the city still spending money attracting industry to areas outside the transit zone?
  • Why is the airport left out?
  • How does this system integrate with the rest of the region/province/nation/global economy?
  • How much are the fines for driving in a bus lane? Will drivers lose their vehicle/licence?
  • How much will the city spend making roads durable enough for BRT?
  • If the goal is densification, why wasn’t it planned for 20 years ago?
  • Will a downtown congestion tax and car free zones make this easier to fund?
  • Were work locations, start times, and the actual drivers who are the public face of LTC consulted?
  • Are the thousands of people beyond the transit zone second class?

I make certain conclusions based on my research in the questions above, such as hub and spoke transit systems cannot work in cities sprawled like of London, the lack of service in the suburbs can have deadly consequences as in Paris and Chicago. My growing suspicion is that BRT, as currently planned, is nothing but a vanity project and a futile attempt at placating special interests. Now questions for the down shifters:

  • Where are your detailed, costed alternatives?
  • Why are you not more transparent with your members and funders?
  • Why are using tactics of the tobacco industry thirty years ago?
  • How will you prepare London for the cultural/demographical shift away from the automobile?
  • How will road widening in London not create more congestion as it has in every other jurisdiction that has tried it?
  • Are empty parking spots an efficient use of Space?
  • How will you keep the automobile from consuming the budgets of poor London residents? Would you support a city funded subsidy for these people to drive?
  • What happens if infrastructure money for roads, underpasses, and bridges becomes tied to public transit projects?
  • How will London fit into the global trend to abandon the internal combustion engine?
  • How much investment has London lost/losing because this system is now in jeopardy?
  • Is being one of the last cities in North America to have such mass transit attracting investments/talents?
  • Are people forced to spend a high percentage of income on their car spending the rest in downtown businesses?
  • How much are businesses outside the transit zone spending on employee/customer shuttles because of current poor LTC service?
  • Is “wait for future tech” code for “I like my Edsel”?
  • When was the last time you took the bus? Was it cheaper or more expensive than parking? Was Richard Nixon President of the United States?
  • Have you factored in the increased health care costs of continued use internal combustion engines?
  • If BRT isn’t built, and businesses still fail, who’s getting the blame? Amazon?

Both sides fail the smell test, and neither side has the high ground, in fact both would need to climb up to reach the sewers. The documents I’ve read on the proposed BRT system feel incomplete and lack evidence, while the opponents produce nothing but opinion pieces and fear mongering. Both sides are using the poorest, most vulnerable people in the city as pawns. If the BRT debate was really about social justice why not connect to where the poorest are and are most likely to find work? Or most likely to end up when the transit zone prices the poor out. Something neither side has explained as far as I can tell.

BRT is not a panacea nor the apocalypse, but the bitter debate could fracture London and destroy opportunities it needs to survive. This city needs to evolve, and primitive automobile technology, whether private car or bus, is not going to help London evolve. Both sides need to remove the blinders and see what is going on in the rest of the world, or at least beyond their bubble. It is frustrating and shameful that London can’t even connect cycle routes, walking routes, and plan a few bus routes without reenacting the Hatfield and McCoys.

If anyone outside London is watching this debate then they’re watching it as a poorly written farce. To be honest the farce over Hamilton’s LRT is more entertaining, and involves London tax dollars to connect Hamilton to Toronto’s boom. If London dithers to long or looks like its unambitious there is a line up of transit projects willing to spend our share of the money. London isn’t in competition with those cities, they beat London twenty years ago, now we’re just waiting for their scraps. A half billion dollar BRT system for the downtown isn’t enough to catch up, and doing nothing puts London further behind.

All those things London now claims as benefits will go where the people, money, and efficient transit are. Bitter debate over a bus system that should’ve been completed in 1989 will not keep it all here, nor attract new benefits. London has already been thrown under the bus, its called BRT, now some are trying to throw us under the car. London should have built a LRT/street car grid that serviced more than the downtown and went beyond city limits. But then people from St Thomas, Strathroy, Ingersoll, and Woodstock could conveniently travel into London to spend money.

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