Waterloo, Ontario’s Light Rail Transit System Implementation

June 9, 2011

In June 2003, the Ontario Government’s Regional Council met to begin addressing the issues of urban sprawl, population growth and the future needs of Waterloo, Ontario and its surrounding areas.

Current Grand River Transit Station, Ontario

Their first step was to adopt a program of analysis where all necessary areas were categorized, prioritized, and studied. They implemented the Regional Growth Management Strategy (RGMS). This was designed primarily to help identify how residential and employment growth can be addressed in the future.

The RGMS evaluated and acknowledged that continuous road expansion is not an affordable or a realistic option for Waterloo’s future. They also stated that RGMS,

“Identified that aggressive efforts need to be made in order to pursue land use and transportation policies that will promote public transit, re-urbanization and greater transportation choice.”

Their answer for the future was the addition of a public transit system.

Their future from 2003 is now the present and although there are no ground-breaking ceremonies under the Regional Council’s belt for a new public transit system, they have made great leaps towards that debut.

Initially the debate was between a Light Rail Transit (LRT) or a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). The pros and cons are displayed in a diagram which can be viewed on the blog Human Transit. The bus system may be a better option in some areas for today, but it would ultimately have to be replaced in 20 years costing millions of more dollars, therefore decreasing any initial savings. It was stated by Waterloo Region,

“Bus service alone will not provide enough capacity for the projected increase in population and ridership. LRT can carry more passengers and provides a more convenient and reliable transportation choice. Furthermore, LRT can shape urban form through intensification and redevelopment and will impact land access, image, value and desirability.”

Map of Light Rail Transit with bus connections

In 2010 Ontario’s Government announced that $300 million would be invested in the public Light Rail Transit system. They will fund $265 million worth of the cost. The rest will be publically funded, via tax increases, etc.

The challenge of raising $35 million has been addressed earlier this year. Two different sections of public consultations have taken place with the discussions of 11 different implementation plans shown and voted on for how the funding would be achieved and before June 2011 is over the Council will approve the preferred system.

The oncoming years will see the construction of the Light Rail Transit beginning in 2012. The anticipated completion date is in 2014.

If the Waterloo Region which houses a population measuring 543,000 people in 2010 (equivalent to Albuquerque, New Mexico today) and has a predicted population increase of 30-34 percent by 2031 totaling 720,000 people (equivalent to Detroit, Michigan today) can implement and be on the verge of constructing a system that will better the people lives, the environment and the economy within eight years, what is the rest of the world waiting for?

Resources: Region of Waterloo, Human Transit and An Insider’s View to Waterloo



Jennifer Shockley

Jennifer is originally from Colorado and has recently moved back from Michigan. She is finishing up her Master’s degree in Architecture. She is currently focusing on urban planning and sustainable design and hopes to gain employment at a design firm specializing in these areas. Jennifer also has writing experience serving as an editor for her school newspaper and college magazine. Jennifer has two cats named Prada and Dior-aptly named after her shoe obsession. You can follow Jennifer on twitter @jenshock81.