The best average estimate for the operation of a light rail system in North America is $240 per service hour. This is 2.6 times as much as it costs per service hour of buses in Victoria.
For LRT to make sense when compared to buses we would need to move 85 passengers per service hour on the LRT. If we have 15 minute headway on the LRT, two cars per train and a half an hour trip time. You need to have 8 railcars operating in any given hour to achieve that schedule. Operating for 12 hours a day means 35,000 service hours per year and an annual ridership of around 3,000,000 to achieve operating costs comparable to buses. This is 8200 passengers per day 365 days a year or 4100 return trips.
If one assumes that passenger volumes on weekends and holidays is 45% of a normal day, this means a normal weekday needs to move 10,000 people, 5000 roundtrips.
Currently there are about 7800 total passenger boardings on buses running from the Westshore to downtown of which roughly 7000 are unique passenger trips. This is done in about 43,000 weekday service hours per year for a cost of just under $4,000,000. The current number of passengers per year is 2,100,000.
The current level of traffic is at about 70% of the volume needed to make the LRT comparable to buses on the same route. At a 70% traffic volume, there is a $2.5 million shortfall. Given the shorter day I am projecting for the LRT and the fewer departures - 48 LRT trips versus 89 bus trips per day - it is optimistic to assume 7000 passenger boardings per weekday can be achieved.
If we assume there will still be 18 bus trips per day during the evening hours, this would be about 500 passenger boardings and leaving us at 6500 weekday daily boardings on the LRT and a short fall of $2.6 million.
If one could achieve a 10% increase in transit use right away, optimistic but possible, we are looking at a shortfall of only $2.5 million. If we then see an ten year rise of another 25% due to growth on the Westshore and people choosing transit, we are at 8750 weekday boardings and still $1,000,000 more expensive per year than using buses. This is an accumulated $17.5 million extra in costs over ten years.
To achieve a savings of $2 million in a given year, there would have to be the loss of 60 service hours of buses per day, something in the order of a 3% reduction in daily bus service.
UVic really should be the focus of transit in this region. It is a daily destination for 25,000 people of which a very high percentage do not own cars. The passenger boardings are also more spread out through the whole day which is much more ideal for an LRT. A line from UVic along Mackenzie to Uptown and then downtown from there would attract about 11,000 boardings per day right from the start on a scope and scale of a Westshore service though it could be more frequent because of the shorter length and provide 60 trips in a 12 hour day instead of 48.
A line from UVic to downtown would also be cheaper to build, $300,000,000 versus $450,000,000 for a line to Langford. The interest alone on the extra $150,000,000 would costs us $5,000,000 to $8,000,000 per year more.