Don’t be blinded by the bil­lion for LRT

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - 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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