The Need for Rapid Transit in London

Over the past decade, Londoner’s have experienced a transit system that has exceeded its capacity, resulting in declining service quality, and inability to address the growing needs and expectations of Londoners.

Smart Moves, the Transportation Master Plan (TMP) update process recognized that the most economical and sustainable option to address the current and future pressures on London’s transportation system is to look to public transit to play a greater role in the movement of people. The 2030 TMP calls for transit to provide 20% of all trips taken in London during the afternoon peak period by 2030 as compared to the current 12.5%. It is important to recognize that increased investment and reliance upon transit to relieve transportation issues is not specific to London. Municipalities across the province and the country, have, or are in the process of implementing rapid transit systems, many of which have already experienced their desired outcomes of increased transit ridership and reduced/stabilized congestion.

A question often asked is why the need for the significant investment in rapid transit when it would be less costly to just add more buses to the existing routes. Adding more buses to existing routes is at best a temporary solution that LTC has been utilizing over the past decade in an attempt to address overcrowding and schedule adherence issues, however, given the increasing levels of congestion on many routes, this approach is no longer sustainable. There are occurrences every day when the extra bus added to a route to address demand and overcrowding ends up directly behind the original bus on the route, both sitting in congestion versus moving passengers to their desired destination. This approach has resulted in the cost of service delivery rising, with no or limited increases in ridership and marginal improvements in service quality. Continuing in this manner will result in a service that operates contrary to what attracts people to public transit, it will be costly and unreliable, and will not lead to attaining the mode share targets for transit ridership as set out in the 2030 TMP.

Many also wonder how a rapid transit system will differ from what Londoner’s see today. Rapid transit corridors will provide a high-frequency service with fewer stops, moving more Londoners where they need to go faster. Existing service routes will be re-designed to get transit customers to the high speed corridors so they can complete their trip.

Regardless of the ultimate delivery form of rapid transit in London, in order for it to be effective, it will ultimately need to include consideration and implementation as applicable by route/route segment of the following rapid transit features:

  • vehicles operating on designated rights of way
  • queue jump lanes at key intersections to allow transit vehicles to get ahead of traffic
  • high capacity vehicles
  • high frequency service
  • traffic signal priority at intersections to assist transit vehicles in maintaining their schedule
  • quality passenger amenities including enhanced stations, real time information and automated fare purchase stations

Transit customers in London have had the opportunity to experience a scaled down concept of rapid transit with the introduction of routes 90 and 91. The two routes offer a more frequent service with limited stops, with some traffic signal priority in place, however the vehicles continue to operate in mixed traffic, and there have been no enhancements with respect to the vehicles operating on the routes or the amenities provided at the stations/stops. Customer response to these routes has been extremely positive, and while there is a desire to increase the frequency on these routes to provide for a higher level of service, there is concern that more frequent schedules would be difficult to adhere to given existing congestion on the corridors.

We know that in order to make public transit an attractive choice to non-users, and a more reliable and efficient choice for transit customers, it will need to deliver customers where they need to go in a reasonable amount of time, on a regular and frequent schedule they can rely upon. The complete system of rapid transit corridors and feeder routes will ultimately result in a more attractive transportation option for Londoners wishing to travel via public transit, and a less congested travel experience for those choosing a private vehicle including those delivering goods and services. Additionally, it will support the type of community building envisioned in the London Plan, which clearly recognizes the dependency/linkage of land use planning and transportation planning in building sustainable communities.


Kelly Paleczny,
General Manager, London Transit Commission