Much of the debate since 2012 around Capital Metro Stage One light rail concerns the much bandied around claim that BRT would cost half as much as light rail. The basis of this claim comes from an April 2012 report by URS called 'City to Gungahlin Transit Corridor: concept Design Report'.
Page 13 of this report breaks down the costs of BRT and LRT in table 2.4. The table on page 13 of the URS report does shows that BRT is half the cost of light rail, but it is a table that is seriously flawed and deceptive. The major issue with this breakdown of costs for LRT and BRT is an assumption that no buses will need to be purchased and no depots constructed. In the costs table under 'Vehicles and Depots', the BRT column has no figure. None at all. In contrast, a new depot at Mitchell is being constructed for Capital Metro and 14 light rail vehicles have been ordered. Will a directly comparable BRT system require no new vehicles or infrastructure? Of course not.
The table that has magic invisible buses carrying 3000 passengers
The first stage of Capital Metro will procure 14 light rail vehicles. Each vehicle has a passenger capacity of 220. That is 3000 passengers if all vehicles are full, and these vehicles will operate at high frequency along the 16 kilometre network.
If ACTION ran articulated buses (with a 100 passenger capacity) solely on this route under a BRT model, they would need to purchase at least 30 new buses. At 800,000 dollars per articulated bus, that is a minimum of 24 million dollars of new buses, and several million more for depot facilities. It is a well known transport fact that light rail vehicles are cheaper over the longer term because although more expensive upfront, they are in service decades longer than a bus, and have far less costs to service and maintain.
The next time someone says that buses would cost half as much as Capital Metro Stage One, ask them how that can be when zero new buses would be purchased under the half cost proposal. I know that the flexibility of buses is a much vaunted feature, but magic buses that carry 3000 people without even existing is something that really should be promoted more widely.
As well as this website, the facebook group 'Light Rail for Canberra' carries frequent updates on Capital Metro and light rail related news.