Ion (transit system)
||This article's factual accuracy may be compromised due to out-of-date information. (April 2013)|
Bus rapid transit
|Locale||Region of Waterloo, Ontario|
|Owner||Region of Waterloo|
|Operator(s)||Grand River Transit|
|Rolling stock||Bombardier Flexity Freedom|
|Line length||36 km (22 mi)|
|Track gauge||1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in) standard gauge|
In 2009, an Environmental Assessment (EA) began to create a proposal of light rail though Kitchener and Waterloo, and adapted bus rapid transit through Cambridge. On June 24, 2009, Regional Council voted to approve the project, subject to funding from higher levels of government.
On June 15, 2011, council approved funding for the first phase, consisting of light rail and adapted bus rapid transit, with the eventual goal of extending light rail to Cambridge. The project is to begin construction in 2014 and open in 2017.
In 2004, the Regional Municipality of Waterloo began an Individual Environmental Assessment to study the feasibility of constructing a rapid transit line to provide higher-order public transit service to the Region and to encourage more compact urban growth along the corridor.
The EA took a broader approach to studying possible routes and stations for the rapid transit line, examining several options such as utilizing existing tracks/roads and constructing new facilities. In keeping with legislation, the Environmental Assessment also examined ten possible transport technologies, including monorails and subways.
The EA originally consisted of three phases:
Phase 1: Determine a preferred transportation strategy from options such as road expansion, improved conventional transit, and rapid transit. Phase 1 was completed in July 2006.
- Step 1: Determine a preferred route design (grade separated, dedicated on-road, dedicated off-road, etc.) and technology. The EA examined ten different technologies including light rail, bus rapid transit, monorail, and subway. Step 1, completed in February 2007, determined that light rail transit and bus rapid transit were best suited to meet the needs of the Regional Growth Management Strategy.
- Step 2: Determined a short list of preferred routes and technologies for seven segments of a rapid transit system (completed in 2008).
- Step 3: Proposed an overall preferred rapid transit system (completed June 2009)
Phase 3: Design an implementation plan for the rapid transit system.
In June 2008, the Province of Ontario announced a new expedited Transit Project Assessment Process, called Ontario Regulation 231/08. In August 2008, the Region notified the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) to advise that the it would transition from the Individual EA to the expedited process. For that reason, Phase 3 of the Individual EA will not be completed. The Region expects to transition to the new Assessment Process in the Fall of 2009.
On June 24, 2009 Regional council approved the initiative and the Region is in discussions with Provincial and Federal governments to obtain funding for the $790 million project. Light Rail Transit (LRT) has been short-listed as the technology for the new rapid transit system. The Region has decided upon a staged approach for building Light Rail from Conestoga Mall to Fairview Park Mall, passing through Uptown Waterloo and Downtown Kitchener on the way. Adapted Bus Rapid Transit (aBRT) is to be built initially from Fairview Park Mall to Ainslie Street terminal in Cambridge utilizing shoulder bypass lanes along highways 8 and 401 during heavy traffic where speeds are 40 km/h or less.
In summer of 2010, funding from higher levels of government was announced: $300 million from the province of Ontario, and $265 million (or up to 1/3 of the full cost) from the federal government. The provincial figure was disappointing to supporters, as they had previously promised 2/3 of the cost. The Region must now look into funding the remaining $200–300 million if the project is to go ahead as planned.
Approved light rail system 
On June 24, 2009, Regional Council approved LRT as the technology for rapid transit in Waterloo Region. Regional Council also approved a recommendation to implement the system in stages because ridership, development potential and capital and operating costs vary along the route.
The light rail system was approved by Regional Council with a vote of 15-1. The dissenting vote was from Cambridge mayor Doug Craig. Other Cambridge-area representatives made dissenting votes alongside Craig on subsequent votes relating to the service's staging, feeling that initially running only buses to that city does them a disservice.
The Province of Ontario has promised it will fund up to two thirds of the cost of the construction of a light rail or bus rapid transit system in Waterloo Region.
During public consultation for the project, concerns related to the light rail proposal focussed on its relative service infrequency when compared with rapid transit systems in other cities (though it would still outperform the Region’s best bus services in its overall service capacity, and the frequency of many routes); the projected service frequency will be approximately 7.5 minutes. In addition, a light-rail line would be limited by the narrow main streets of key downtown areas. A feasible proposal raised by the Region for dealing with this challenge would be to have light rail vehicles share space with traffic within core areas, somewhat resembling the traditional streetcar networks of many European cities, and of nearby Toronto. A bus rapid transit line would also face the challenge of the cramped core areas, and thus would also likely share space with traffic in core areas.
In late 2011, planning was well underway and preparations were being made. In October, a property on Dutton Drive in Waterloo, bordering the rail-line corridor where the LRT is planned to be installed, was purchased to serve as a maintenance and storage yard for the system's trains.
The route approved by Regional Council is:
- From Conestoga Mall in Waterloo, the route follows King Street to Northfield Drive and
then Northfield Drive to the Region-owned rail spurline; it then follows the Region-owned rail spurline from Northfield Drive to Uptown Waterloo; In Uptown Waterloo, it would split into a one-way system going north on King Street and south on Caroline Street, and along Allen Street to rejoin as a two-way system along King Street; In Downtown Kitchener, the route would split into a one-way system going north on Duke Street and south on Charles Street, and back to a two-way system on Charles Street at Frederick Street; From downtown Kitchener, the route would follow Charles Street, a one-way system using Ottawa Street northbound and Borden Street southbound, two-way along the CN rail right-of-way, Hayward Avenue, Courtland Avenue and the hydro corridor adjacent to Fairway Road to Fairview Park Mall; and from Fairview Park Mall the route then takes the CPR rail line, Eagle Street, Hespeler Road and Water Street into Downtown Cambridge to the Ainslie Street transit terminal.
The Region approved a staged implementation plan for its Rapid Transit System:
Stage 1 – Implementation of LRT north of Fairview Park Mall and adapted Bus Rapid Transit south of Fairview Park Mall, including:
- LRT from Conestoga Mall in Waterloo to Fairview Park Mall in Kitchener;
- Adapted Bus Rapid Transit (aBRT) from Fairview Park Mall in Kitchener to Ainslie Street Terminal in downtown Cambridge
- Re-aligned Grand River Transit (GRT) bus service to provide an expanded level of service to the rapid transit stations along primary feeder corridors;
- Express bus service, modelled after the current iXpress service, to high ridership centres throughout the Region (i.e., Wilfrid Laurier University, Conestoga College etc.);
- Connections to intercity transit such as GO Bus, GO Train, Greyhound and VIA.
Stage 2 – Completion of a light rail transit system from Fairview Park Mall to the Ainslie Street transit terminal in downtown Cambridge. Commencement of Stage 2 to follow completion of Stage 1 as closely as possible.
As the Rapid Transit proposal would be Waterloo Region's biggest infrastructure project in its history, the proposal has attracted vocal support and opposition.
In May 2009, a Facebook group named "I Support Light Rail Transit in the Region of Waterloo" was created, and boasted over 1,600 members. Shortly after its creation, the group creator and other LRT supporters formed the "Tri-Cities Transport Action Group" (TriTAG). According to its website, TriTAG supports LRT as a needed method of shaping development, meeting future capacity needs, protecting the environment, and providing the most economical solution for transportation in the Region. Six months after founding, TriTAG launched an email campaign to allow supporters of LRT to email their MPs, MPPs, and other government officials such as the federal and provincial Ministers of Transportation. Within a few days, thousands of emails had been sent. For the 2010 Regional Budget, TriTAG and its supporters presented to the Regional Budget Committee regarding various areas of transportation funding. While the focus was not on LRT, the delegates spoke about the importance of proper transportation infrastructure (pedestrian, cycling, transit) on a successful LRT system.
In opposition to the Rapid Transit proposal is a group called "Taxpayers for Sensible Transit" (T4ST), which was formed in June 2009. According to its website, T4ST opposes LRT as being a proposal too big and too expensive for the region, which will hurt businesses and the local economy. Taxpayers for Sensible Transit did not present a position regarding transportation and transit funding for the 2010 Regional Budget.
See also 
- "Ion approved as name for Waterloo Region LRT". Waterloo Region Record. 30 April 2013. Retrieved 30 April 2013.
- Region of Waterloo report E-08-070
- "Ontario Budget 2008: Chapter I, Section B". Retrieved 2 July 2009.
- Outhit, Jeff (Oct 27 2011). "Rail yard purchased for rapid transit". Waterloo Region Record. Retrieved 8 November 2011.
- These routing notes are based on the recommendation that went before Regional Council on June 24, 2009. A map of the system can be found here.
- "I Support Light Rail Transit in the Region of Waterloo".
- "TriTAG". Tri-Cities Transport Action Group.
- "Why Light Rail?". Tri-Cities Transport Action Group.
- "Tri-Cities Transport Action Group Counters T4ST Misinformation With New Website". Exchange (Waterloo Region). 6 November 2009. p. 1. Retrieved 30 January 2010.
- "TriTAG’s presentation to the Regional budget committee". Tri-Cities Transport Action Group.
- "Budget Committee - November 25, 2009 Public Input Minutes". Council Chambers, 2nd Floor, 150 Frederick Street, Kitchener, Ontario: The Region of Waterloo. 25 November 2009. http://www.region.waterloo.on.ca/web/region.nsf/8ef02c0fded0c82a85256e590071a3ce/65154a7824ca249985257682005b3141!OpenDocument.
- "Main Page - Wiki". Taxpayers for Sensible Transit.