London News & Search
City hall is set to re-start talks with the last big hurdle along its proposed $500-million bus rapid transit system, Western University.
And the ivory tower is no small roadblock: With the BRT business case done and the wheels turning on funding requests from Ottawa and Queen’s Park, city officials are resuming discussions with Western, which has a long list of concerns about the system planned to cut through campus.
One Western officials struck a note of optimism about BRT, saying its biggest beneficiaries will be post-secondary students needing fast, reliable service between campus and the rest of London.
“We’ve had ongoing meetings with the city really through this entire process,” said Peter White, executive director of government relations at Western.
“Of all the parties working through BRT, we’ve probably had the most extensive consultation, particularly because it had such visibility throughout our community with our faculty, our students, our staff all being very interested in transit through the university.”
BRT critics have seized on Western’s concerns as yet another reason to press pause, or hit delete altogether, on the project. Council last week approved a revised business case, clearing the way for talks with the university to resume.
This winter, Western’s board of governors approved the proposed route through campus, but did so with a slew of conditions, including:
*There can be no more than eight BRT buses through campus per hour
*Operating costs, such as snow removal along the route, must be covered by the city
*The school will never allow light rail to run through campus
Western officials made it clear they’d only allow one route through campus. The one conditionally approved by the school runs east-west between Richmond Street and Western Road along University and Lambton drives.
City hall’s engineering boss, Kelly Scherr, noted there’s room in the budget — including the BRT contingency fund — to address some of Western’s issues.
“Their students and staff can really benefit from this project,” she said.
The BRT network can also help Western further its long-term goals around the movement of people and vehicles, like building a car-free campus.
“We’re also looking at how we make the campus safer from a pedestrian standpoint, because we have so many pedestrians and unfortunately we’ve had a few tragic incidents,” White said.
“This is something that’s really going to set the future for the campus over the upcoming years.”
The school emphasized public input over the past two years, running more than 60 consultation events, he added. Many students and faculty said they’d use transit to get to school, if only it was more reliable.
“The students are the heavy users of the system,” White said.
“If we can get improvements to transit for the students, that’s certainly been a big issue.”
London News & Search