Do you complain about LTC buses? Good, you’re a normal Western student.
Do you want to make things better for future Mustangs? Then here is a conversation about local transit you really need to be part of today.
What are we even talking about?
London needs rapid transit, no one argues with that — we needed it yesterday. London’s the largest city in Canada without rapid transit and the LTC situation isn’t getting any better.
The city has been working on plans for the past two years now and after extensive debate among all the relevant stakeholders a mode (bus transit) was approved and routes were finalized.
What’s the problem now?
There is one major route going through Richmond and onto campus which will be students’ primary interaction with rapid transit.
There is increased opposition in the city to this route by businesses on Richmond Row and the primary target of critics is a tunnel planned on Richmond St. The tunnel will run between Victoria Park and St. Joseph’s Hospital and will only serve transit and emergency vehicles. The potential construction of this tunnel has gotten local businesses worried about the impact it will have on them.
A local group called "Downshift London" has propped up to lobby the city to reconsider existing rapid transit plans.
Under this pressure, the city council is now considering an alternate route which will go up Western Rd. and avoid Richmond altogether.
Impact on students
The Richmond route is the one that best serves Western students. It goes through the most densely populated student areas and goes through campus via the Richmond gates. It also serves the most popular student-frequented establishments — i.e. Richmond Row.
Taking away the Richmond route will also leave King’s students hanging. Recently, the affiliate college principal David Sylvester threw his support behind the beleaguered corridor:
“If there’s a Western Road-only option, (riders) are at least three to four kilometres away,” he told the London Free Press in an interview. “We have 4,000 people using this campus daily who will be stranded.”
The Western Rd. route also bypasses much of inner campus entirely — something which is not only a disservice to students but that goes against prior reports and agreements between the city and the University.
Western has a sprawling campus. Last year, the University Bridge shutting down to traffic was the biggest transit crisis on campus in recent times. Western had to run special shuttles just to transport students from one end of campus to the other.
The impact on the city
The unsavoury impacts of shifting the route aren’t just limited to students.
According to the city’s own reports, transit revenues will suffer due to less riders on the alternate corridor. There will be very little opportunity to develop light rail transit at any time in the future due to the floodplain on the alternate route, an impediment to future progressive transit plans.
In addition, there will be major impacts on business and heritage properties on the new route.
The city’s reports also show 21,918 people and jobs currently being served by the Richmond route: a number which will grow to 25,876 by 2034. The alternate route serves a paltry 3,695 people and jobs currently and is projected to grow by 218 more by 2034.
Cost estimates based on the current routes have already been submitted to the provincial and federal governments who will be funding the bulk of the $560 million price tag of the project. Changing things now will only cause further delays and more red tape and with a provincial election on the horizon, all the lobbying done so far on the city’s behalf could go to waste with a government change at Queen’s Park.
What needs to be done?
Students form the single largest ridership of the LTC and throwing their concerns out the door in favour of playing politics will be detrimental in the long term for London.
While I sympathize with the concerns of Richmond Row businesses, they need to realize that Western students will still visit all their favourite haunts religiously. Richmond Row is a perennial Western tradition and will remain so. The city can also provide other concessions to the businesses during construction such as tax breaks and parking alternatives to help them out.
Maybe the tunnel is the only solution for this route or maybe it isn’t. What is important is that the Richmond route needs to be served by rapid transit.
Western administration is a powerful player in this situation but so far has chosen to stay silent as things have unfolded. Just a few months ago, Western was demanding the city to pay for snow shovelling on campus for the rapid transit routes. The dynamics of the conversation can change significantly if the University’s board of governors throws its support behind the Richmond corridor. It’s is time for them to step up as well.
What can you do?
As a student, you wield a significant, if seldom-used voice in the city.
The USC executive has already thrown their support behind the Richmond route. You can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org asking your USC councillors to pass a public motion on behalf of undergraduate students in support of the Richmond route.
Write to the city councillors expressing your support of the existing route and its importance to students. A local initiative called "Shift Happens" is helping people speak in favour of the rapid transit plans and serves as a counter to "Down Shift." They have more information on contacting the city council here.
London needs to stop taking one step forward and two steps back each time a major decision comes up. City council should make the right call and approve the Richmond route as originally planned.