Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Light rail, a heavy load for Ottawa, a huge one for Christchurch. No Light Rail without a referendum.

NZ in Tranzit - flicking between greater Ottawa, Ontario, Canada and greater Christchurch, Te Wai Pounamu, New Zealand on light rail and transit costs

Back in 2009 Ontario's premier expressed concerned about the inflating costs of Ottawa's new transit system.   "In fairness, I think costs have escalated rather dramatically in terms of estimates. I think what we need to do now is to sit down in a very sober-minded way, talk this through and decide what it is that we can all afford," Premier Dalton McGuinty said.

The cost for the first phase of the city's new light rail transit plan has soared to $2.1 billion, up from an earlier estimate of $1.4 billion. The plan includes light rail lines from Blair Road to Tunney's Pasture, with a downtown tunnel designed to get rid of traffic congestion in the city's core. At the same time as McGuinty spoke out the Ontario municipal affairs minister said he had serious doubts that the city can afford to build the entire transit system, which has a cost that is now pegged at more than $6 billion.
A couple of weeks ago, in July 2011, The Ottawa Citizen featured a report on how the huge costs of light rail specifically and transit in general, are to be funded.   According to the report in the Citizen  "One way or another, people buying new homes in Ottawa over the next several decades are going to foot a very big share of the city's transit construction costs, according to the city's treasurer.

The long-term plan calls or the city's transit budget o bring in $4.3 billion from charges on new construction n the city between now and 2048. That's to cover about a fifth of the total bill for the new light-rail system and all its eventual add-ons, plus busways running into Ottawa's suburbs, and it'll mean charging a lot more for new construction than the city does now.

At the outside, the plan from treasurer Marian Simulik would see the charge the city puts on most new houses to cover transit costs rise from $3,431 today to $13,180 in 23 years. A bit less than half of that would just be to account for inflation, but the real increase would still be thousands of dollars on one house"
.....read more 
that is, building up towards $10,000 per house purchased needs to be funnelled towards public transport and the hugely expensive light rail (and not counting the much larger charge for roading in general). It should also be note that in Ontario there is 14.5 cent tax on petrol and diesel which goes direct to funding public transport - most recently a further $32 million to OC Transpo, Ottawa's Transit authority. 

 ...but where will much smaller and poorer (by GDP per capita) Christchurch find $4 billion?? And where will adequate funding come for our outdated, way behind the eight ball, bus infrastructure, the $44 million (barely 10% of the tram cost) so far mentioned being far too minimal to build an adequate modern sophisticated bus system, one that 80% of public of Christchurch will have to rely upon, even if a light rail line is built. 
Ironically "greater Ottawa" area (including Gatineau immediately across the Ottawa River) with a collective metropop 1.3 million has the most successful public transport system of any city under 2 million metropop in (roughly comparable countries) North America or Australasia in terms of patronage per capita, percentage of peak hour commuters using public transport, and trips per capita.
Between Gatineau's STO, with 19.1 million passengers and Ottawa's OC Transpo, with 99 million passengers these transit carried 118 million passengers a year - apart from less than 3 million on a short line diesel train - all carried on buses. Many via Ottawa's  35 kilometres of totally segregated bus only lanes and 16 km of on-street bus lanes - passengers loading in outer suburbs run virtually without stopping (under other roads etc) until the central city.

Not only does Ottawa itself have an exceptionally high number of passengers but the percentage of people using public transport to get to work at 19.4% is the third highest in Canada (behind Toronto and Montreal, ahead of Vancouver) and apart from New York considerably higher than any city in the USA - San Francisco, Seattle and Portland included (cities over 2 million visited by Christchurch  Mayor Bob Parker in 2009)

Another unusual figure - unquestionably due to the speed and directness of busways and restrictions on all day parking charges is that bus patronage as a percentage of all forms of commuting is greatest in outer areas (as high as 30%) and is most attractive to younger commuters

Ottawa was a pioneer in segregated busways (unfortunately at a time when there was a world-wide decrease in public transit during the 1980s and early 1990s) but because of this down turn transit lacked the political clout to achieve adequate bus loading areas in the central city to allow for growth, today the system is a victim of its own success and the city turns to a light rail option (partly underground) to transport the heaviest sector of its patrons. There is nothing wrong with that, that is the city's decision. However other cities such as Istanbul (550,000 passengers a day), Jakarta or closer to home, Brisbane with better planned busways carry huge numbers on busways with out encountering the chaotic situation in central Ottawa.Bus rapid transit seems a far more appropriate system for the public transport needs of a low density city like Christchurch, serving the whole city not just 20%!

Clearly no serious study of whether light rail is appropriate in Christchurch should exclude studying a public transport system that has punched far above its weight and size, suceeded better than most. The idea that our hospital equipment or wharf cranes are chosen by feedback suggestions, including those from minors, may be very cosy but would be ludicrous! And so it is with light rail - a huge expenditure on a system which almost nobody knows anything about, a specialised technology of public transport appropriate in some circumstances and not in others, absorbing a huge portion of the total public transport, can not be implemented on the basis of "fashionable choice" or (for most people) a groovy image.  

NZ in Tranzit says no decision on light rail without a professional independent cost-benefit study; and without a comparable cost-benefit study of bus rapit transit corridors (and dare I say it Light Bus Network!) ; and without a comparable study of building a commuter rail network between Rangiora and the city (via the airport) and Rolleston and the city.

Most of all - no decision committing ratepayers to $406 million light rail project
without it being put to voters at a referendum

**Société de transport de l'Outaouais (Gatineau is in the predominantly French speaking Province of Quebec)

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