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Made-in-Manitoba solution?

New Flyer offers bus rapid transit for Winnipeg

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If the City of Winnipeg is still looking for rapid transit options, it might want to check its own backyard.

New Flyer Industries, the largest heavy-duty urban bus maker in North America, said a home-grown solution is available but it's only going to fly if some long-held stereotypes can be destroyed in the process.

"The public's perception of transit is a dirty, noisy, rattling bus," said Paul Soubry, CEO of New Flyer, which is headquartered in Transcona. "Our latest offering, which we've been delivering for a few years to North American customers, is a very different bus. It's got Wi-Fi, it's more comfortable, it's fuel-efficient with lots of natural light and it has ease of entrance and accessibility for disabled people."

Bus rapid transit, or BRT, also has the flexibility to adapt and add routes with a fraction of the infrastructure costs of light rail transit (LRT), he said.

Soubry said BRT has proven to be a very cost-effective means of moving people around in mid-sized to large cities, including Halifax, Ottawa, Brampton and Cleveland.

"If you invest in the assets and make it complementary to the existing bus fleet, (BRT) can be a very progressive way for a city to get people out of cars and into public transit," he said.

It didn't take long to twist the arms of Cleveland residents. The Ohio city spent about $200 million -- including $950,000 each for 21 buses -- on its own BRT, which went live in the fall of 2008. (All figures are in U.S. dollars.) Within the first 12 months, ridership was up 48 per cent.

Its system includes exclusive BRT lanes, buses with doors on both sides, cameras at the rear and sides and bus stops on the far side of traffic lights. There's even a feature called "signal prioritization," which keeps green lights lit longer so buses can get through the intersection, shortening commute times.

The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority even found a pair of hospitals willing to pay for the naming rights of the BRT corridor -- dubbed the HealthLine -- which will provide $250,000 per year over 25 years to city coffers. Sponsors of each of the 26 stations shell out another $30,000 annually. In total, between $15 million and $18 million will be collected and reinvested back in the line by 2033.

Joe Calabrese, general manager of GCRTA, said it looked at every possible people-moving option and went with the bus route.

"The BRT will cost one-third to build and one-third to operate as LRT. The one question we heard over and over again was, 'Will development happen around the stations?' The answer is yes, it will, without any doubt. We've seen much more development around our BRT than with any of our light or heavy rail systems," he said.

Calabrese said more than $4 billion of new development along the corridor, including retail, housing and factories, has sprung up or is in the planning stages.

A City of Winnipeg spokeswoman confirmed a meeting has taken place between New Flyer executives and city officials.

New Flyer provided information on its product offering, some perspective on the competitiveness of BRT versus LRT and invited Glen Laubenstein, the city's chief administrative officer, to come to its plant and check them out. Laubenstein accepted.

"In terms of any decisions being made or whether we're looking at going further and signing on with New Flyer, it's all premature," city spokeswoman Michelle Bailey said.

Paul Smith, New Flyer's executive vice-president of sales, said it can also provide different propulsion systems, such as hybrid vehicles or electric trolleys. The latter existed for many years in Winnipeg until the infrastructure was torn out in the 1960s.

"We can put electronic trolley service back in with rubber wheel transit. You don't need steel wheels to put that in but there are a lot of infrastructure and maintenance costs with it," he said.




Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 10, 2010 A3

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