Spectator reporter Matthew Van Dongen answers frequently asked questions about BRT
Why is this important?
If both the A-line bus service and B-line LRT go ahead, Hamilton would offer rapid transit along its most crucial transportation spines. That’s a huge step forward on the long-term “BLAST” network conceived in 2007 that seeks to link the downtown, Mountain and outlying communities with rapid transit.
What is BRT?
True “bus rapid transit” is usually defined as express bus service in dedicated, sometimes physically separated lanes. But Metrolinx is leaving open the option of creating a “hybrid” system with a mix of dedicated lanes and express buses travelling in mixed traffic, similar to the express bus service already on the B-line today.
Would these be regular buses?
Yes. Or at least, they wouldn’t be “GO” buses.
What is the route?
The proposed bus service will run 16 kilometres from the airport to the harbour.
All other details are unconfirmed. The map released Thursday shows buses running along James Street, up James Mountain Road, jogging briefly on Fennell Avenue before following Upper James Street toward the airport. But that route was simply copied from the city’s 2007 “BLAST” map, Hamilton’s rapid transit plan of the future.
The streets involved, the number of stops and the Mountainclimbing access are all up for study and possible changes.
What will it cost?
We don’t know yet. If we end up with true BRT, the cost will be higher because of land purchase requirements, separated lanes and even the potential need to rebuild the road to deal with constant heavy bus traffic. Metrolinx estimated the 2008 capital costs of BRT on the 14-kilometre B-line at $218 million, by way of example. Just putting more buses on the road with priority signals, express stops — but no dedicated lanes — would cost less.
Will the province pay all capital costs for BRT?
Not necessarily. Axing the Aline LRT spur should free up $125 million from the $1-billion LRT budget. But if the eventual A-line cost exceeds the existing LRT budget, “various levels of government” would have to talk about how to make up the difference, says Metrolinx. Mayor Fred Eisenberger said he is hopeful the LRT budget will cover all capital costs. We’re also chasing the federal government for transit dollars.
Is the city taxpayer on the hook for any costs?
Who pays the bill on capital costs is still up in the air. And the province has never committed to paying any operating costs for rapid transit, either for LRT or the new A-line project. We don’t know yet how much extra it might cost for the HSR to run more express buses, more frequently up the Mountain. Also worth noting: Metrolinx wants a private consortium to design, build and operate Hamilton’s LRT. (The union representing the HSR opposes this plan.) It’s too early to say if Metrolinx will want a design-build operator on the A-line.
When will they build it?
Planning for the new A-line bus service — including a business case analysis, environmental assessment and design — will take between two and three years. (Yes, that process will stretch through the 2018 elections.) Construction could still happen in tandem with LRT because that mammoth project will stretch from 2019 to 2024.
Why the change?
Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca credited public feedback on the need for better Mountain transit connections for the A-line revamp. He also questioned the bang-for-buck potential of a twokilometre LRT spur forced to run in traffic.
Del Duca didn’t bite on questions about whether the A-line spur was less of a priority because of challenges involved in adding more commuter train service to the West Harbour GO station. That station opened in 2015 but still sees only two train departures each weekday morning.
Metrolinx is trying to negotiate more track usage on the busy rail corridor owned by CN, and is working to install an extra track across the Desjardins Canal bridge to hook up with the West Harbour station.
Does council have to approve this plan?
Not immediately. Metrolinx can begin the business case analysis and route evaluation — it’s paying for the work with LRT budget money, after all. But at some point, the city will have to weigh in on critical decisions like the form of bus service (see BRT versus express bus debate) and whether it is willing to cover cost overruns if the A-line plan price tag exceeds the amount of money left over from building LRT.
So is this a done deal?
No. There is no guaranteed funding, design or even a budget, so it’s unlikely the project could go to tender before 2019 at the earliest. With a provincial and municipal election coming up in 2018, anything is possible.
To be fair, even the fully funded LRT project could still be derailed, in theory, if council were to refuse to sign an operating agreement. But that is becoming increasingly unlikely with more than $70 million already spent and early council votes in the bag.
What is the A-line? Or the B-line, for that matter?
The B-line is the Main and King Street bus corridor running between McMaster University and Eastgate Square. The A-line is the north-south bus corridor that generally follows James Street and Upper James Street.
They form part of the “BLAST” network, otherwise known as Hamilton’s long-term rapid transit plan. The L-line is a proposed express route to Waterdown, while the S-line would start at Eastgate Square, climb the escarpment and head west to Ancaster. The T-line would start near the Centre on Barton, climb the escarpment and cross the central Mountain before ending near the Meadowlands.
I’m very saddened and disappointed by the cancellation of the (A-line) spur. I thought it was a hidden prize in the project. COUN. TOM JACKSON It brings the project to a whole different level … It’s one step closer to the full BLAST transit network that will take into account every corner of our city. COUN. SAM MERULLA When you’re making this kind of investment, you want to make sure you get it right … I think this responds very well to some of the concerns expressed by the community. TRANSPORTATION MINISTER STEVEN DEL DUCA My big fear here is that we’re taking on too much. We’ve got to do them one at a time and get them right ... Slow it down. Whoa. Let’s focus on LRT … I do have more comfort knowing we can’t do this (A-line) project for at least two or three years. COUN. LLOYD FERGUSON Anything you build, you have to be flexible enough to adjust if you find the money you are going to spend isn’t going to provide value. MAYOR FRED EISENBERGER
Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca speaks during a press conference as Hamilton council members listen.