Consultants are usually hired to marshal arguments to support decsions already made in ignorance rather than to help bureaucrats make informed decisions, but M. M. Dillion Ltd, may have overreached themselves in their effort to promote the proposed Pembina Highway busway.
It is just not reasonable to believe light rail transit (LRT) in that corridor would cost eight times as much as a busway. Even the highly biased study that led to the construction of Ottawa's OC Transitway did not exaggerate the supposed cost advantages of busways to such an extent.
The Transitway was conceived to provide continued employment for the region's road engineers. A rail system would not serve that purpose, so a study was orchestrated to ensure that only a busway would be chosen.
Light Rail Transit (LRT) can be fitted in where there is no room for a busway, affording a wider choice of routes, so only routes suitable for a busway were considered. Complete grade separation was specified from the start, needed more for the busway because it takes five or more buses to carry as many people as one LRT train. Busways take more space than equivalent rail systems, so land values were omitted from comparative costing. Rolling stock and carbarns were included in costing for rail, but not buses and garages for the busway. Even so, the cost estimates for a rail system were well under twice those of a busway.
If it would cost $250 million to build a light rail line in the Pembina Highway corridor there is no way you could get an equivalent busway for $59 million.
The OC Transitway was also promoted as a cheap substitute for real rapid transit, but it has not worked out that way. Actual costs were several times the estimates on which regional council based its decision.
While Ottawa was building it, Calgary built about the same length of LRT at about the same cost. The Transitway's average cost will likely end up being much more than the same length of LRT line, as the most expensive parts have been saved to last. Besides, roundabout routes needed to find space for it make it longer than an LRT line.
How can operating costs be higher for LRT? A busway needs several buses, each with its own driver, to carry as many people as an LRT train controlled by one motorman. Diesel buses need heated storage, or they will not start in the morning; electric rail vehicles do not.
Portland figures their trains cost 20 cents a passenger mile, compared with 40 cents for their buses. How can the environmental impact be similar, when modern light rail vehicles are much quieter than diesel buses and emit no fumes?
Is Pembina Highway where high-performance transit is most needed? I would think a LRT line along Portage Avenue would be more useful. It would take less than the width of two traffic lanes out of the middle and could easily carry as many people as ten traffic lanes.