Special Report: Light Rail

Are We On a Slow Train to Nowhere?

After years of futzing around on a matter that has already been studied to death, the Ontario Government may end up simply running down the clock on Hamilton's best chance at a decent transportation spine.

By Ryan McGreal
Published February 01, 2010

Just what on earth are Metrolinx and the Ontario Government doing these days?

Metrolinx, the arms-length regional transit body the Ontario Government created just a couple of years ago in a fanfare of enthusiasm and excitement, seems to have ground to a halt in terms of actually carrying out its transformative mandate.

With an initial endowment of $11.5 billion from the provincial government and the hope of matching federal funds, Metrolinx was founded (as the Greater Toronto Transit Authority) in 2007 to drag the Greater Toronto Area's regional transit system into the 21st century - kicking and screaming, if necessary.

The Ontario Liberals actually campaigned for re-election in 2007 with the promise of "two light rail lines across Hamilton" - an east-west line running along Main and/or King and a north-south line running along James and Upper James.

Metrolinx swooped into Hamilton in October 2008 to host an open house and stakeholder workshop that drew 140 Hamiltonians - the highest turnout outside of Toronto.

We learned that Metrolinx was undertaking a Benefits Case Analysis (BCA) of the east-west rapid transit corridor that would recommend a preferred technology based on triple-bottom-line criteria (economic, social, environmental) favourable to a decision recommending light rail rather than buses.

Metrolinx staff were supposed to present the BCA to the Metrolinx Board in July, 2009, after which Hamilton Rapid Transit staff could present it to City Council in September to make a decision on building a light rail system.

Progress Grinds to a Halt

At the same time, however, the Ontario Government decided to replace the Metrolinx Board of mayors and regional chairs from GTA municipalities with an appointed board of transportation planners and project management specialists to take parochial local politics out of the mix and speed things up.

Pressure to shake up the Metrolinx Board came to a head after the organization's investment strategy failed to make any decisions on securing long-term funding streams for the $50 billion, 25-year Regional Transportation Plan beyond the original provincial endowment.

Potential revenue sources like highway tolls were considered too politically risky - even though the purpose of creating Metrolinx was to distance regional transportation planning from parochial politics.

The new Board was announced in June, 2009, but it appeared to consist mainly of patronage appointees with very little experience and background in regional transportation planning. Most of the appointees came out of high tech manufacturing, corporate and commercial law, publishing and communications, culture and tourism, human resources, mortgage financing and securities.

After that, time seemed to stop for the B-Line BCA. The July deadline passed without a report. That deadline was pushed back, and pushed back again, and pushed back yet again, with no comment from Metrolinx staff but behind-the-scenes reports of an organization in churn after taking control of GO Transit.

I've been told that the BCA was completed months ago but there has not yet been an opportunity to present it to the Board.

Reinserting Politics

The latest deadline for public release of the BCA is February 19, 2010. However, the report will not include any funding commitment from Metrolinx.

Any provincial funding decision must come from ... the Ontario Government. You know, the political body that formed Metrolinx as an arms-length body to take politics out of regional transit funding and planning decisions.

With the Province deep in the red and backpedaling away from new spending (even going so far as to float the idea of selling off public assets), politics may climb back into the driver's seat when it comes to long-term transit funding.

After eight months of futzing around on whether to recommend light rail in Hamilton, to be followed by months or years of additional studies on a matter that has already been studied to death, the Ontario Government may end up simply running down the clock on Hamilton's best chance at a decent transportation spine.

Given the manufactured controversy over LRT in the Hamilton Spectator and the tepid support from Council, there's a terrible chance that this whole thing could just fizzle out and Hamilton could end up stuck where it is today: an underwhelming hinterland overseen by underperforming custodians.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

41 Comments

View Comments: Nested | Flat

Read Comments

[ - ]

By woody10 (registered) | Posted February 01, 2010 at 15:14:41

Wow, so typical isn't it. Like i've always said about this city "Don't count on it till it's actually 90% complete." I'm still worried about the PAn-Am stadiums. I can see us blowing that as well.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Bob Dylan (anonymous) | Posted February 01, 2010 at 15:42:52

Boy, without a doubt, have to quit your mess and straighten out, you could die down here, be just another accident statistic. There's a slow, slow train comin' up around the bend.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By michaelcumming (registered) - website | Posted February 01, 2010 at 16:02:36

After all the hype about an imminent decision, about turning corners, about breaths of fresh air etc., that would be truly disappointing.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By highwater (registered) | Posted February 01, 2010 at 16:05:20

Grim.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted February 01, 2010 at 16:30:17

Looks like saner heads will prevail in the end.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By jason (registered) | Posted February 01, 2010 at 17:04:26

definitely.
someone would have to be insane to suggest that Hamilton needs some re-investment or some sprucing up. Things are awesome just like they are! At least that's what the tanning salon and pawn shop owners want us to believe.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By lukev (anonymous) | Posted February 01, 2010 at 18:41:49

This problem stretches beyond Hamilton. It's something about Ontario and our political climate over the past 20 years. Every politician has been afraid to do anything. They just like to "do studies", sually conveniently timed during elections, to divert any talk during the election. In the end, these studies create pretty little books, and not much else.

Every city in this province suffers from underinvestment. It's enough to make me want to move.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By A sign of the times ... (anonymous) | Posted February 01, 2010 at 21:00:24

This surprises you guys? Keep voting Liberal and NDP and keep getting lied to and laughed at.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By adrian (registered) | Posted February 01, 2010 at 21:03:50

I just emailed Sophia Aggelonitis (and included a link to this article).

C'mon folks, let's get calling and emailing! Let's put the pressure on!

Sophia Aggelonitis Andrea Horwath Paul Miller

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By A sign of the times ... (anonymous) | Posted February 01, 2010 at 22:01:36

@adrian:

The only way we're going to get anything in this city moving is to STOP electing these pro-labour, pro-union cronies. Andrea Horwath, David Christopherson and Paul Miller have absolutely no interest in anything but keeping their union buddies happy. Sophia Aggelonitis has barely lifted a finger since getting in.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted February 01, 2010 at 22:22:52

If the HSR could break even in its current operations, this would go a long way to proving that Hamilton actually needs more transit funding. The fact that we can't, indicates that there is currently not enough demand, or just too much supply. I personally believe that there is too much supply, especially in the evening, when I routinely see buses with one or two people on board.

Is it a good use of money to run a bus for one or two people?

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By seancb (registered) - website | Posted February 01, 2010 at 22:35:37

here we go again

While we are requiring 'break even economics', why don't we start with the operation of a single occupancy vehicle - perhaps the most heavily subsidized activity one can partake in?

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted February 01, 2010 at 23:03:36

seancb, if you are arguing against free roads, then I agree with you. I would love to see the city charge car/truck drivers for the use of the roads. The fact this this isn't the case, however, still doesn't mean it's smart to run buses with just a few people on board. This money could be spent planting trees, lowering tax rates, attracting new businesses, all things that would be good value for the money.

In what way is running a bus for just a few people a good use of money?

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By lukev (anonymous) | Posted February 01, 2010 at 23:21:07

The bus I was on this morning had twice as many people in it than there were seats. Nothing is full all day every day, not even the most successful restaurants.

I'm looking out my window at a street, and only two cars have used it in the past hour. In what way is maintaining these streets, which are hardly used except for a few hours a day, a good use of money?

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Blather (anonymous) | Posted February 02, 2010 at 00:01:56

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted February 02, 2010 at 00:04:26

lukev >> The bus I was on this morning had twice as many people in it than there were seats.

And if the HSR was a real business, it would respond by running more buses so as not to annoy their customers. It's not as if the city doesn't know that more people ride the bus during the day, so why is there always a shortage of seats on the busiest routes?

>> In what way is maintaining these streets, which are hardly used except for a few hours a day, a good use of money?

When cars aren't traveling on the road, how much damage is being done to them? I would suggest zero. In contrast, when buses are running with very few people on them, they still require lots of gasoline, maintenance and salaries for the drivers.

If the city was interested in keeping costs down, it could. So why should other levels of government, who have their own spending priorities, lavish Hamilton with funds when HSR managers waste it. If Hamilton made even a weak attempt at becoming more efficient, it could likely bring the subsidy down from $30M to $15M in a short period of time. If this were the case, we would be in a much better position to argue for more transit funding, since we would be using each dollar of funding to produce more customer value than we do today.

Would you want to give money to someone who wasted it? I wouldn't. But if that person used it wisely, I would want to give them more.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By woody10 (registered) | Posted February 02, 2010 at 00:18:43

I'm sorry, but I have to agree with part of what sign of the times is saying. As long as our votes go to the NDP we haven't got a prayer for real investment. The two BIG BOYS on the block will punish us I'm afraid. That's just my opinion but it seems to be the way. I also don't believe they just "keep their union buddies happy" either. That's a bit of a stretch. And anybody on Daltons team in this city is basically inept and drawing investment to us.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By jason (registered) | Posted February 02, 2010 at 08:51:24

thanks for confirming what I've said for years- political parties only care about themselves. Not the public, not the future, not the economy. It's why we should abolish all political parties. They are all the same. Useless.

Ryan, you've lived in Hamilton for how long and are only now realizing that we're on a slow train to nowhere??

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By highwater (registered) | Posted February 02, 2010 at 11:13:08

The only way we're going to get anything in this city moving is to STOP electing these pro-labour, pro-union cronies.

I'm sorry, but I have to agree with part of what sign of the times is saying. As long as our votes go to the NDP we haven't got a prayer for real investment. The two BIG BOYS on the block will punish us I'm afraid. That's just my opinion but it seems to be the way. I also don't believe they just "keep their union buddies happy" either. That's a bit of a stretch. And anybody on Daltons team in this city is basically inept and drawing investment to us.

Are you seriously suggesting we would get LRT if we elected conservatives?

Comment edited by highwater on 2010-02-02 10:14:50

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By A sign of the times ... (anonymous) | Posted February 02, 2010 at 12:59:43

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By highwater (registered) | Posted February 02, 2010 at 13:05:53

So, Libs and NDP = possible LRT maybe sometime in the future.

Conservatives = middle finger.

Ok then.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By A sign of the times ... (anonymous) | Posted February 02, 2010 at 13:47:15

@ highwater,

Nope, Liberals and NDP = red tape and buracracy, may get LRT completed in 20 years at twice the original cost.

Conservatives = will probably get it done in the same time, without all the panels, boards, commitees and waste and on budget.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By jason (registered) | Posted February 02, 2010 at 13:56:19

@ highwater,

Nope, Liberals and NDP = red tape and buracracy, may get LRT completed in 20 years at twice the original cost.

Conservatives = will probably get it done in the same time, without all the panels, boards, commitees and waste and on budget.

you're not helping your cause with this statement.
The sad part is, you're probably right. no committee, no panel boards (after all, who needs to know what it will look like?), no public input, only specific pre-rehearsed questions allowed.....

Comment edited by jason on 2010-02-02 12:57:15

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted February 02, 2010 at 14:12:34

It should not be about the poltiical parties. This is the problem when the agendas of the parties come before the needs of the people.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By TreyS (registered) | Posted February 02, 2010 at 15:36:24

Thanks Ryan for this recap of events. I knew it was stalled but had no idea its been stalled this long and over nothing. When all else fails you can blame it on the recession.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By A sign of the times ... (anonymous) | Posted February 02, 2010 at 19:53:36

@jason,

I didn't imply no public hearings or committees, just a scaled back version of events. You can easily blow your budget on talk.

I hope we've all learned a thing or two from the Redhill Creek Expressway 50-year bonanza.

Let's get the LRT done already.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By woody10 (registered) | Posted February 02, 2010 at 22:35:57

@highwater re: if we elected Conservatives.

Actually, yes. If we had a couple of Conservatives in it would definitely help. If the liberals were in, maybe then liberals in Hamilton would help. I'm stating that, because federally we never have (thank god) NDP in power, but have them in abundance in our city, it doesn't help our cause. Would you shovel your neighbours driveway if he badmouthed you the rest of the year?? Nope. Poor analogy but you get my point. I wasn't a big Sheila fan but at least she got us the National Park.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By jason (registered) | Posted February 03, 2010 at 08:49:34

again to my point - politicians are elected to do what is right for the people, our cities, the economy, the environment, our health, our future, our infrastructure etc.... the second a politician won't do the right thing because their party doesn't have a member in power in a certain riding is when they lose all respect and credibility. Many of our grandparents went to war and fought for freedom, and part of that freedom is to elect public SERVANTS. not to elect multi-million/billion dollar corporations called political parties. Shame on all politicians who have such greedy, selfish views of the world.

Comment edited by jason on 2010-02-03 07:50:04

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Jaded (anonymous) | Posted February 03, 2010 at 09:33:43

@Jason, "again to my point - politicians are elected to do what is right for the people, our cities, the economy, the environment, our health, our future, our infrastructure etc.... the second a politician won't do the right thing because their party doesn't have a member in power in a certain riding is when they lose all respect and credibility. Many of our grandparents went to war and fought for freedom, and part of that freedom is to elect public SERVANTS. not to elect multi-million/billion dollar corporations called political parties. Shame on all politicians who have such greedy, selfish views of the world."

This is about the most naive thing this very naive person has said. Of course politicos are expected to do all of that; but they are expected to do that all over the province and country...so with limited resources guess who gets the lion's share? You guessed it, those ridings represented by members within the ruling caucus...the rest get crumbs...maybe it isn't absolutely right but it is the way things are done. So smell the coffee Jason. It's been percolating all your life just under your nose!

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By A sign of the times ... (anonymous) | Posted February 03, 2010 at 10:19:38

@Jaded and woody10:

It's nice to finally see some common sence on this board. The silent majority is out there. Let yourselves be heard!!

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By highwater (registered) | Posted February 03, 2010 at 10:38:08

I love how conservatives always imagine they are part of some 'silent majority'. Hey ASOTT, if there is such a huge, silent majority of people out there who share your views, then I'd say it's high time you started a website. This huge majority has been oppressed by Ryan and his merry band for far too long. Let yourselves be heard on your very own website where no one can can silence you by hitting the down button!

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Rod (anonymous) | Posted February 03, 2010 at 16:21:25

That Metrolinx is turning out to be (yes, it seems that way) yet another plodding, red tape-mired, government or quasi-government bureaucracy, doesn't surprise me, nor should it surprise anyone else. Although the seemingly inordinate delays in making funding commitments to various transit or transportation projects may be one method being employed to cope with the increasingly precarious financial situation of the province.

In other words, maybe all these delays and snail's pace approvals may be deliberate - the slower the money is disbursed, the better (from the government's perspective, of course!).

But just to note that the tardiness in coming to a hard and fast decision re: Hamilton's LRT, is evident elsewhere with other projects, most notably the proposal to upgrade the Toronto-Peterborough-Havelock rail line to accommodate both a rail passenger commuter service and rail freight traffic to and from businesses in the Peterborough area. At the moment, that line is subject to 10 m.p.h. speed restrictions, which make it impossible to host passenger train service, and it is anyone's guess how much longer rail freight-dependent businesses can hang on with these train speeds.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By A sign of the times ... (anonymous) | Posted February 03, 2010 at 17:32:27

@highwater:

I love how socialists love to claim fame to free speech and expression. That is, until someone with a different point of view comes along.

Since when did RTH become a far-left rag?

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By highwater (registered) | Posted February 03, 2010 at 17:38:37

And how, pray tell, is suggesting you start your own website impinging on your right to free speech and expression?

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted February 03, 2010 at 19:15:45

"That Metrolinx is turning out to be (yes, it seems that way) yet another plodding, red tape-mired, government or quasi-government bureaucracy, doesn't surprise me, nor should it surprise anyone else."

This seems to be the pattern ... with everything positive that is being attempted. Dangle a carrot, talk about how awesome it's going to be, many many studies, sounds good, ok we're almost there .... STALL. You know what, nevermind, maybe in 5 or 500 years. But not to worry, the next carrot is being dangled!!

Cycling plan, LRT, GO trains to Niagra, lots of carrots, NOTHING is actually getting done.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By jason (registered) | Posted February 03, 2010 at 22:53:25

LOL. did this turn into a US news network windbag debate?? left, right, conservative, left wing rag etc.....
ok we get it. some people don't mind having their lives run by multi-billion $ corporations and enjoy being handed crumbs despite paying the identical provincial and federal tax rates as everyone else in the province. others don't.

are we going to allow ourselves to be screwed once again by upper levels of government or look past parochial politics and do whats best for HAMILTON? Perhaps some of you loved paying for the skydome all of those years while our own stadium crumbles before our eyes. I hope not, but the time for Hamilton to fight for it's fair share of investment is now. LRT has massive potential due to the layout and density of this city. It's now or never, people. Send your letters!

Comment edited by jason on 2010-02-03 21:54:19

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By woody10 (registered) | Posted February 03, 2010 at 23:45:09

Jason aren't you kinda agreeing with me in your last post?? I merely stated what actually happens, I don't think it can really be denied. Do you see huge investment from the feds in Hamilton?? Over the last how many years??? The last big thing was the PArk, under the Liberals and Sheila. I'm not telling you guys anything that isn't true, I'm shocked I was down-voted just because you don't like the Conservatives or Liberals. That's crazy. I agree we need to stand up for this city no matter who's in government or who is in charge. Just don't align yourselves with or against a party just because of it. Don't be sheep, take the obvious and work with it to get what you want.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted February 04, 2010 at 01:33:02

I guess one could say that the silent majority are those who do not vote, you know the almost 60 percent of Canadians, no matter what level of government it is.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By highwater (registered) | Posted February 04, 2010 at 07:57:40

@woody:

I down voted you because of your ridiculous assertion that we would get LRT if we elected conservatives. David Sweet anyone? And part of Hamilton is in Tim Hudak's old riding. Not since Bill Davis have we had conservatives at any level who haven't been toxic for cities. It's incredibly naive to suggest otherwise. However, in restrospect, ridiculousness and naivete are not sufficient to downvote and I've withdrawn mine.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By woody10 (registered) | Posted February 04, 2010 at 13:30:47

Thanks highwater. I was actually generalizing about investment not strictly the LRT. And I didn't say just conservatives, I also stated if the Liberals were in and so on... The point was that a ruling party helps it's own ridings, it's obvious. I'm not the naive one here and it's not ridiculous either. I understand you don't like the Cons. good for you, I don't like them all the time either, or the Libs or the NDP. Please try to read my posts with more of an open mind and don't zero in on singular parts that upset you. I'm a multi-party thinker, more the logical, common sense take on things. Even though there is little logic in politics.

I do vote every time in all elections by the way, incase anybody was wondering.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By frank (registered) | Posted February 11, 2010 at 08:11:05

I actually read Sam Merulla's newsletter yesterday before I recycled it and he had a section for LRT. He said that the announcement was to come in late Feb and planning was to start in March... Not sure where he got that from...

Permalink | Context

View Comments: Nested | Flat

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to comment.

Events Calendar

Recent Articles

Article Archives

Blog Archives

Site Tools

Feeds