A conventional bus can carry 80 people and costs about $97 per hour to operate. The cost recovery from fares averages $1.37 per passenger on the Victoria system. These numbers are from the Greater Victoria Transit Commission. If a bus can pick up 71 unique passengers in an hour, it can pay for itself.
Meanwhile, an LRT can carry 230 passengers and will cost about $350 per hour to operate. This means at $1.37, the train has to 256 passengers in an hour to pay for itself.
Three buses can carry 240 people, fits in the same space as the LRT, and costs $291 an hour to operate. So the buses can carry 10 more people and costs $59 an hour less to operate.
What these numbers say to me is that the LRT will never be able to move as many people as cheaply as the existing buses can.
The LRT has only one possible area in which it can beat the buses, that is speed. But if the buses were given a dedicated right of way, they would be as fast or faster than the LRT.
All it would take to improve the speed of the buses would be to provide some bus lanes in a few locations.. 3 pm to 6 pm northbound from about Mayfair to Uptown would make a better time on Douglas during the one time frame where there is a problem. From Saanich Road through to Mackenzie a bus only lane would alleviate most of the problems.
Inbound in the mornings, a bus lane running from near Helmeken to Tillicum should deal with much of the trouble.
If these changes were made, any time advantage the LRT would have would not exist. The buses also have the flexibility of getting around obstructions to the route if there any. The cost of making these changes would not be much money at all, certainly not a billion dollars.
So the buses are cheaper to operate, can carry more people, and for a comparatively small capital investment, would be as fast the LRT.