The first stages of Vancouver’s mass-transit system were completed in 1985, Montreal’s 1966, Calgary’s 1982, Toronto’s 1954 and Edmonton’s 1978.
Ottawa’s first stage of light rail, a very short line and tunnel, is expected to be completed in late 2018 at a cost of more than $2.1 billion. Phase 2, which will not get to Kanata or Barrhaven, is planned to be completed in 2023. Combined the two phases of Ottawa light rail will probably cost about $6 billion upon completion.
Toronto’s rail mass-transit system 64 years before the Confederation Line in Ottawa is to be completed.
So to put this in perspective, rail mass transit is a very old technology and Ottawa is just starting to adopt it.
Something new is on the way.
Out in Kanata, which won’t get light rail in the foreseeable future, QNX, a subsidiary of Blackberry, is developing the self-driving car. We know this, among other publicity, because Mayor Jim Watson had a photo-op there.
Watson is pushing our very expensive and luxurious light-rail system. Yet even Watson, after his self-driving car PR extravaganza, must know the self-driving car is coming very quickly. Given how fast Blackberry’s smartphone was adopted by the public and other giant tech companies, the self-driving car is coming very fast.
Are you prepared to bet against Google, Uber, Blackberry and the 18 companies developing the self-driving car? Good luck. They have a long and illustrious record of success.
Would you put money on OC Transpo, the LRT office and the City of Ottawa’s planning department being smarter than the companies developing the self-driving car?
Already amazing technology appears in your garden-variety car. My year-old plain-Jane Corolla has GPS lane-departure alert and steering assist, collision avoidance, pedestrian warning, ecology-mode operation, an amazing Bluetooth entertainment and communication system and much more … as standard equipment. Me, as the driver, is starting to feel a tad superfluous.
So the age of the self-driving car is almost upon us. Watson already has that technology. It’s called a chauffeur.
The age of 5G is almost upon us making controlling city traffic a snap and non-commuting work environments much more efficient. Imagine how easy it would have been to have controlled surface light rail and surrounding traffic with current 4G technology. And then putting the dangerous Laurier Avenue bike lanes on the safe sides of LRT on a downtown street. Cyclists would no longer be bowling pins waiting to be struck in front of Ottawa City Hall.
Meanwhile, OC Transpo ridership is flat and transit honcho John Manconi is counting on an uplift in users due to the gold-encrusted, short, light-rail first phase. Unheated stations and an extra transfer plus home-working environments and an aging, non-commuting public mean he might be wrong. The advent of self-driving cars? Look out.
However, Manconi and Watson, more than most, will find a way to make the rail line sound successful even if it is not.
Ottawa’s light-rail project is the largest municipal undertaking in modern history. By being usurped by on-rushing technology, it might also be the biggest white elephant in city history.
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