London city hall: BRT benefit pegged at $1.18 per dollar

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The latest — and likely final — business case for London’s bus rapid transit system gives taxpayers more bang for their buck, but the margin remains thin.

Two months after city council made drastic changes to parts of the project, chiefly axing a tunnel planned to run beneath downtown, bureaucrats have updated the BRT financial figures.

Politicians will debate the new document Monday.

The updated cost/benefit ratio for BRT is 1.18, a slight improvement from the previous figure, 1.13, which included the ­contentious tunnel under Richmond Row. That means the city is projected to get $1.18 worth of benefits for every $1 invested in the $500-­million project.

“Even though I didn’t support dropping the tunnel, even without the tunnel, our transit project is a very good project,” Coun. Jesse Helmer said.

“It certainly delivers a lot of great value in solving some significant transit issues we’ve got in the city.”

The cost/benefit analysis weighs all kinds of benefits the city could gain from BRT — everything from reduced greenhouse gas emissions to an improved image of London — against the investment required to build and operate the system.

The revised ratio inched up a few notches in part thanks to the project’s lower costs — dropping the tunnel saved at least $100 million, and likely much more. The project’s construction cost is now set at half a billion dollars.

“If you look across the rest of Ontario, projects in other cities generally cost more,” Helmer said, pointing to higher land values.

“London is a great place to do a rapid transit project like this.”

And that increased cost/benefit ratio doesn’t capture the real potential of the BRT system in the future, Deputy Mayor Paul Hubert said.

“Yes, it would be better if (the cost/benefit ratio) was 1.9, but . . . the benefit will actually increase over time,” he said.

Hubert’s ready to get to the next stage of the project.

“BRT is the perfect case for the public and politicians to ho and hum and waver. We need to move forward with our bus rapid transit plan. It is critical to the growth of the city over the next 20 years,” he said.

Monday’s debate, expected to end with a rubber-stamping of the revised BRT business case, would allow city hall to ramp up efforts to get funding from Ottawa and Queen’s Park.

London’s contribution to construction is capped at $130 million, with the remaining $370 million needed from the federal and provincial governments.

When city council killed the tunnel, it drew criticism from BRT boosters and opponents alike. Supporters felt it damaged the whole proposal, while those opposed felt it was still too much money.

Helmer notes while major debates are complete, more loom.

“It’s important, even once this decision is done — whatever decision we make — that Londoners really stay engaged with that process,” Helmer said.

“A lot of important decisions are still to come.” 

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