Making the Best of the “B” in BRT

Don’t let the title fool you, I’m profoundly disappointed that we’re not electing to pursue LRT.

I, like many of the readers here (I’m sure) am sad that we have let go of an opportunity for light rail in our city, and  I have spent the last few days reading and re-reading the arguments, the cases for support, the rallying cries… the apologetic posts and columns that shrug as if to say “this is why we can’t have nice things”.

What I haven’t been reading about, though, is ideas about how we can still have nice things; and no, I’m not talking about rail… That train (metaphorically speaking) has left the station.

So the challenge I put to all of us is how we can make BRT mean Best Rapid Transit… How can we make London’s clear direction for a Bus Rapid Transit System progressive? More importantly, given that we’ve saved a bundle of cash (or rather, saved the province and the Feds a bunch of cash) how can London think differently about the way we use transit and transit dollars, and change the world with our decision to embrace BRT?

Where are the ideas, the innovations, the thinking that could make this system the envy of those cities that blew their wad on LRT?

Lest I be accused of simply trolling, here are some of my (admittedly fanciful) ideas (in no particular order):

  • Take 1/5 of the bus (and adding 20% more buses to the route) and commit it to local high-end coffee providers. In other words, get the riders to skip Starbucks & Timmies and have them enjoy locally roasted & brewed Hasbeans/Red Roaster/Fire Roasted latte literally on the way to work (and on their way home from the Knights & Lightning games).
  • Speaking of, offer Knights/Lightning fan busses that offer pre-game coverage broadcast from the bus itself.
  • Use the fluidity of the fact that these are busses and not rail cars to our advantage by adding routes that support multiple origin points. By this I mean don’t just start the north-end route at Masonville Mall, but create origin stations at other points in the north end, such as Fanshawe & Adelaide, Adelaide & Huron, Wonderland & Sarnia, Wharncliffe & Oxford, etc. and then express those busses on to the BRT route.
  • Give every seat on the bus its own AC power outlet and USB port so commuters can charge up while they get down(town)*
  • Create designated stops at cyclist-friendly trail ends.
  • Let people in all four corners of our city go to the library to “check out” one of a limited number of passes to our community funded arts organizations, and make BRT transit a part of that package.
  • Create a local closed-circuit interactive news and entertainment program that exclusively loops on each bus that talks of weather, current affairs, and local community programming, including live music and comedy performances on one of the busses.
  • Host a LAN party bus (on a longer route) so that gamers can frag their way to work.
  • Offer a singles-only bus Thursday to Saturday nights that allow for speed dating sessions on the way to the bars.
  • Create a UP-style express bus that goes from the University and Fanshawe college gates to King & Clarence (a block from Via Rail) and King & Talbot (a block from Greyhound).

Perhaps some of these ideas seem unfeasible, and perhaps seem unrelated to the interests of the broader population (or even those who are considered to be the LTC’s traditional ridership); however, I think what those of us who were advocating for transit were really hoping for is a different sort of experience in transit from our city so that we could overcome the stigma associated with “taking the bus” in London. So, to put it bluntly, really, why can’t we “progressives” turn our attention to advocating for changing the experiences from our bias against the bus to rethinking what taking the bus could mean?

We have a city full of creative, forward-thinking, and energetic minds… Let’s #hackthebus and see what we can come up with that will make other cities take note of what we can do with what we have, not what we can do that’s already been done. And of course, please feel free to comment with your own ideas for making commutes in London unique and freaking awesome…

And to contribute on Twitter, tag it with #hackthebus #ldnont.

*Cut me some slack, it’s late and I’m rushing through this…

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  1. Steve Marshall
    Posted May 31, 2016 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    Great ideas. Let’s flood the LTC and their route review consultants with even more ideas AND commit to them through City Council to increase transit funding so that we can see progress in advance of the BRT build. Perhaps they need a separate Innovation Fund in addition to their operational monies.

  2. Posted May 31, 2016 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    🙂 except we haven’t saved anyone any money. The money will be spent – from the Feds and the province. It just won’t be spent here.

  3. Adrian Willsher
    Posted May 31, 2016 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    I think the stations and stops will be just as important as the buses themselves, as in many cases the wait for a transfer will be longer than the BRT ride. Some possibilities:

    –power outlets for quick charging
    –secure bike parking
    –variety stores and/or coffee shops and/or quick service restaurants (e.g., sandwiches). And not one contract given to one company to run the whole system — auction off a few stations and select local companies for a few others.
    –water fountains
    –restrooms with baby-changing facilities

    Vandalism is always a risk, which is why it’s important to get vendors into the stations to provide greater security for people and equipment.

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