The Hamilton Spectator

Don’t be blinded by the billion for LRT

- JIM YOUNG Jim Young lives in Burlington.

LRT is being touted as a great leap forward in transit but somebody needs to call LRT for what it really is before it becomes the most expensive white elephant in Hamilton’s history.

In desperatio­n for the $1 billion provincial handout, Hamilton is ignoring the fact that LRT is a 40 year old idea running on a 200 year old guidance system, which by the time it is built, will be so obsolete, we will wonder how we were so blind to the obvious.

Rail guided transit systems were introduced in the 1820/30s as safe way to keep lumbering steam engines from scaring the horses or the Victorian ladies. Throughout the early 20th century Tramrail Systems proliferat­ed but were largely abandoned by the mid-1960s. In London, New York, Glasgow and in Hamilton, outdated, inflexible rail systems were torn out make way for more flexible, efficient bus systems.

Technology has changed so much that LRT now looks like your 1980s Atari Game Console. By the time Hamilton LRT is up and running the idea will be over 50 years old. Driverless and battery powered vehicle technology will be so advanced as to be ubiquitous. As driverless cars with unlimited route programmab­ility become the norm, how much simpler will it be to program driverless buses with limited route variabilit­y?

Imagine unmanned buses directed by user demand on flexible routes fulfilling passenger needs rather than rigid driver controlled schedules on fixed routes or rail corridors. Where additional buses can be diverted to and from routes to meet demand spikes, where no buses run empty during low demand periods on certain routes.

Where rider-determined stops will drop potential customers right at the door of businesses, stores or health centre along King, Main, or any other street for that matter, instead of the proposed 14 LRT stops, hundreds of yards from where passengers actually want to go. Rider requested pickups and drops from cellphones or bus stop input terminals.

Where for a fraction of the $1 billion plus cost of LRT infrastruc­ture, Hamilton might build battery charge/change stations throughout the city, off-line to the actual routes, ramping up in numbers as battery buses come on line instead of the massive seven to 10 year of no service during the disruption of roads, transit and wayside businesses that LRT infrastruc­ture will cause.

Where most of the billion dollars and the savings in operating costs can be invested in more buses; potentiall­y tripling current bus inventory to around 750, allowing massive improvemen­ts in frequency and service while providing the required backup and reserve batteries.

Driverless electric bus services can easily be expanded to Stoney Creek, The Mountain, Ancaster, Dundas and Waterdown, areas that will see none of the supposed LRT benefits and with three times the frequency of service, the entire city will be running a futuristic, clean energy transit system with none of the 10 year disruption LRT will bring.

Look how technology has changed since 1993 when smartphone­s and Google Maps were only good ideas. Now every Auto Company working with Google, BlackBerry and others have road ready driverless vehicles awaiting only testing and regulatory acceptance. Panasonic, LG, AESC and GS Yuasa are developing 250 KM capacity battery systems for those same automakers. How much farther will these technologi­es advance in the time it takes to get LRT going?

Battery buses are already operating in China, Germany, California, on London’s famed double deckers, St. Albert and Winnipeg in Canada, over 6,000 worldwide.

Let us take off the billion dollar blinkers and see LRT for what it really is: An old fashioned four-car train. Instead, imagine what an interactiv­e, driverless, battery powered transit system with 750 smart buses might be: a truly green operating system with frequency and city wide accessibil­ity that would take thousands of cars off the roads, provide wheel trans service second to none, improving our carbon footprint and our entire city immeasurab­ly.

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