London receives $204 million in federal funding for public transit

Long awaited federal funding for public transit in London has arrived, with a catch.

The federal government announced Friday morning London will receive $204 million for public transit in the city.

While the $204 million figure is close to the amount London needs to achieve full funding for the city’s $500 million bus rapid transit project, the money isn’t specifically for the Shift BRT plan.

A funding formula based on ridership determined the amount of money London has been allocated. While the money has been allocated to London, federal approval will still be required before it can be accessed.

READ MORE: Ontario to receive $11.8 billion in federal funding for transit, environmentally friendly projects

The federal government says a climate lens will be applied to ensure municipalities consider opportunities to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions or better adapt to climate change. They will also require a report on how larger projects are creating job opportunities.

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The funding is part of the $11.8 billion announced by the Trudeau Liberals on Wednesday for infrastructure, with $8.3 billion dedicated for transit projects.

London’s total will be exactly $204,878,184.99.

London’s allocation is the largest in the region, it’s over 12 times more than what Woodstock, Ingersoll, St. Thomas, Sarnia, West Elgin, Norfolk County and Point Edward will get combined.

Those communities will receive $16,916,372.55 with the majority going to Sarnia ($11 million) and Woodstock ($3 million).

READ MORE: London’s rapid transit inches forward with staff presentation to working group

London has 60 per cent of the funding it needs for BRT. In January, the province pledged $170 million towards the rapid transit project while the city has committed $130 million. While the federal funding could be used for any transit project that receives approval, the federal funding is for the current BRT plan only.

On Monday, London North Centre MP Peter Fragiskatos told 980 CFPL final approval of federal funding for bus rapid transit could take months and may not come until after this fall’s municipal election.

Fragiskatos has been outspoken about his reservations for the plan. Old North residents have expressed concerns about the plan from route design to ridership projections and time savings.

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“Shift BRT has been my biggest issue,” he said. “When it comes to concerns that are raised its not just a few folks that questions some assumptions and want more information relating to ridership and travel times.”

Fragiskatos told 980 CFPL funding for Shift will be approved when it’s appropriate.

“It’s necessary to take a step back and reassure Londoners that Shift will be reviewed, we will get money for transit and there’s no need to rush any of this.”

READ MORE: Cycling group criticizes London’s BRT street designs, says city must do better

Rapid transit is shaping up to be a key issue locally in the June provincial election and the municipal election in October.

Mayor Matt Brown is a staunch supporter of the plan and campaigned on bringing BRT to London in 2014. Two of his expected opponents in the municipal election, businessman and former London Police Board budget chair Paul Paolatto and 2014 mayoral runner-up Paul Cheng have both expressed doubts about the plan.

In a statement Friday morning, Paolatto expressed enthusiasm at the announcement.

“Today’s announcement by the federal government is a very positive and progressive investment in London,” he said in a release. “The federal government has made it clear that the funding isn’t directly tied to the Shift BRT plan as it exists today. This money is for better transit for all of London. It is clear, now more than ever, that Londoners have a choice.”

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READ MORE: Phil Squire says BRT could have worked on Wharncliffe instead of Richmond

Cheng has called for BRT to be a ballot issue in the fall, an idea that has failed to gain traction at city hall or in the city.

A draft report on the staff recommendations for BRT routes will be presented to the strategic priorities and policy committee on April 9. City council will vote on the recommendations a day later.

The 24-kilometre BRT network will see the high-frequency buses run along L and 7 shaped corridors inside the city. Buses will run from Oxford and Wonderland Road in the west, to White Oaks Mall in the south and from Masonville Place in the north to Fanshawe College in the east, with both corridors running through the downtown.

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