Hamiltonians deserve better than Mayor Bob Bratina's childish games.
By Ryan McGreal
Published March 07, 2014
Hamilton Mayor Bob Bratina went on the Bill Kelly Show on AM 900 CHML yesterday to try and clear things up with respect to his recent blog post on light rail transit (LRT). To put it delicately, mission not accomplished.
Note: you can listen to the audio on the CHML Audio Vault. Select March 6, 9:00 AM, and the interview with Bratina starts at 35:20.
He started out by playing a game of semantic Twister over whether or not he supports the city's east-west B-Line LRT plan, which almost immediately degenerated into tacky Red-baiting.
Well, I have to, uh, support Council direction, of course. I wouldn't say - you know, I have a personal view that there, ah, I think better ways of, um, of dealing with the transit issues in Hamilton. But that's not something that I'm speaking to cabinet ministers or anything else about.
But I certainly, as far as I understand we're a little different from, uh, from Russia, that you are allowed to say, you know (laughing), make personal comments about things.
Soon after he went on:
The first line of my blog, I have it in my hand, "Council has a stated on the future of transit for this city, which I, as Mayor, fully support. Of course I have my personal views." So that's my position and that's Council's position.
So he "fully" supports the B-Line LRT and also thinks it's not the right way to deal with Hamilton's transit issues.
I might have more sympathy for Bratina's point if he had actually done anything this term to articulate, develop and advance an alternative rapid transit plan.
But other than occasionally musing that maybe we should build the A-Line before the B-Line or maybe we should run LRT on the city's Rail Trails, his main contributions to the debate have been to release a steady trickle of confusing, misleading and straight-up incorrect statements about every aspect of the plan.
At various times he has claimed that: the city would need to choose between LRT and all-day GO Train service; the city would need to choose between LRT and extending all-day GO to Stoney Creek; LRT would only make sense if a million people move to Hamilton in the next five years; the B-Line doesn't have the ridership to justify LRT; it is not clear whether new developments would go; and so on ad nauseam.
Throughout 2011 and 2012, Bratina maintained that he could not champion Hamilton's B-Line LRT without clear direction from Council to do so. (Apparently all of the unanimous Council votes supporting the plan up to that point were not sufficient.)
When Kelly pressed him on whether he has been a "champion" for that plan, Bratina replied:
Well, I'm not a champion of very much in life except that we all behave well, and, and, this question of championing, you're, you're not gonna make me say something I don't believe. However, I am going to state to, uh, senior government officials what the official position of council is.
Frankly, I'm sometimes a bit surprised the Province hasn't already told us to grow up. Notwithstanding the unanswered questions about how to finance the next phase of Metrolinx projects, that they haven't is a testament to how much the Province recognizes that Hamilton needs this investment, even if our own leadership doesn't.
In case his position on championing the city's Rapid Ready plan isn't clear enough, Bratina also shared his unique interpretation of what the plan is about:
It's a good plan. Build ridership to the point where the next phase, you know, the higher order of transit, which techni- theoretically could mean LRT, could mean BRT as well, uh, ah, is in place.
This is essentially the same thing he said last April when Council reaffirmed its support for the LRT plan in light of Bratina's disparaging comments about it. When Council asked City Manager Chris Murray to clarify what Rapid Ready says, he replied:
[W]e've been focused on the B-Line for some time. Many years, in fact, and investing heavily into the design of it with the understanding that we'd be moving ahead with that project subject to the Province agreeing to the funding...
We've done our homework, we are ahead of everyone else. You know, we've been focused all along on the B-Line and advancing the detail of that B-Line so the Province can make a decision on the B-Line...
We think investing in transit, LRT specifically, in the City of Hamilton is something fundamental to our growth.
As for Bratina's oft-repeated claim that we need to "build ridership" before LRT makes sense, the same Rapid Ready report notes that the route of the B-Line already carries 13,000 passengers a day.
If the LRT was to open tomorrow, it would be in the middle of the pack for North American LRT systems on opening day. Given the existing pent-up demand for transit on the B-Line (the 2010 HSR Operational Review documented regular "pass-bys" as overstuffed buses failed to stop for additional riders), that ridership number has impressive growth potential.
Last Friday, Ontario Transport Minister Glen Murray came to Hamilton to announce the construction of the James North GO Train station and give a lunchtime speech at an event organized by the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce. Bratina spent time with Murray on Friday morning and attended the luncheon.
When Bratina said he didn't know whether the Province is willing to prioritize transit-oriented development in Hamilton over congestion relief in other parts of the GTA, Kelly asked him whether he had posed that question to Murray when they were together.
Well, the Minister, yes, was in town and, and he, uh, I didn't have anything to say to him with regard to the Council position because he's aware of it and everyone's aware of it. He spoke strongly in advocacy of the promise of LRT in terms of development. He said that clearly, 'we think this is the way to go'.
But he did say that the decision lies in the hands, uh, with Council. And that's fair. And so perhaps, uh, Council needs to be more informed on, on all of this, but I, I don't think there's any need for a raging argument right now because our transit plan is in their hands.
Last Friday, Murray said he would be happy to accompany City leadership to Ottawa to ask the Federal government to contribute to the B-Line LRT (the Feds will not provide funding to a project that has already been approved and announced), but he needs a municipal partner to accompany.
So much for "work[ing] with all levels of government to bring Light Rail Transit to Hamilton" as Bratina promised in his 2010 Mayoral campaign.
Bratina struggled to reconcile his conflicting statements that he supports the city's B-Line LRT plan and also disagrees with it, and so he kept trying to shift the debate to an imaginary controversy over whether he supports LRT in principle.
This is the tactic he used when backpedaling from his blog post: he wasn't actually advocating his proposed LRT line on the Escarpment and Chippewa Rail Trails, he was just trying to demonstrate that he does support LRT, so there.
When Kelly challenged him on whether his blog post was helpful to the LRT discussion, Bratina said:
It's only academic now because this isn't gonna happen. There is, there's no LRT going up that rail trail, okay? Let's, it's, so, but what, what was murky were the continuing drumbeat of attacks that somehow the Mayor of the City of Hamilton does not want L, R, T. And that is a ridiculous statement, and it's based on ideology and zealotry and not on facts.
He plowed on, suggesting that the real problem with his blog post was that it was not dumbed-down enough:
I tried to write this blog for the average to better reader. Maybe I have to dumb it down even further to, to, to, to get the simple message across. You know, we had this crazy thing about where's the L in the LRT, you remember that, who put the bop in the bop-she-bop-she-bop. It's, ah, I don't know, it's really irrelevant to, uh, ah, to Council's position and how we're moving forward with our plan.
Except we're not moving forward with our plan. Bratina has spent the past three years expelling a thick cloud of confusion, doubt and misinformation about every aspect of the City's plan.
His latest ploy is to play the concern troll - someone who pretends to support an initiative in order to undermine it.
The Rapid Ready plan represents a shift in how the City has historically approached strategic infrastructure investment and has a whole-city scope that only a whole-city representative can carry. Light Rail Transit on the B-Line is part of a comprehensive strategy to put this city back to work, grow our tax base, leverage our historic urban centre to attract young entrepreneurs, and create new jobs for an innovation economy.
The B-Line itself is the first phase in a larger rapid transit network - called B-L-A-S-T - that will serve the entire city, with each segment built at the right time using the appropriate technology.
B-L-A-S-T Rapid Transit Network
We need the Province to partner with us to realize this vision, and the Province wants to help. Last Friday Transport Minister Glen Murray made this very clear. He also made it clear that the Province needs to take its cues from the local leadership.
That's why it's so important for Hamilton to have a Mayor who understands how smart, strategic infrastructure generates a real return on investment.
Hamiltonians deserve better than Bratina's childish games. We deserve a Mayor with a real vision for the city, grounded in good evidence about how to achieve prosperity and bolstered by respectful community outreach and strong public support.
That's not "ideology" or "zealotry" but leadership.