Special Report: Light Rail

McMeekin: City Must Set Rapid Transit Priorities

Liberal MPP Ted McMeekin has said that Hamilton must set its rapid transit priorities and make a good business case for LRT along the B-Line, while Metrolinx reconfirms that Hamilton needs to get its LRT plan ready before any funding decisions are made.

By Ryan McGreal
Published July 21, 2011

RTH contacted Ted McMeekin, the Liberal MPP for Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale, to ask where he stands on the sudden de-prioritization of light trail transit (LRT) in Hamilton.

McMeekin responded last night in a tweet that Hamilton "needs to make [a] good business case" for light rail transit. "It can be done," he added, "but serious questions are being asked." He concluded that he will continue to work with the city.

He stated clearly that it is up to Hamilton to decide what its priorities should be. "To be clear, the City has got to set priorities for the City. I trust that they will continue to work hard to do exactly that."

Without any Council vote, City Manager Chris Murray advised Council in an email last Friday that the City's top priority is now securing all-day GO service instead of LRT. Chris Phillips, the senior advisor to planning and economic development general manager Tim McCabe, has been appointed to lead a task force "to aggressively pursue all-day GO service" to stations on James North and Centennial Parkway.

It is unclear what the task force will actually do, given that the Province has already confirmed Hamilton will be getting all-day GO service. It is also unclear why the City cannot pursue both all-day GO service and LRT, given that the two transit projects complement each other and Metrolinx has clearly stated that one does not preclude the other.

Good Economic Case

In a follow-up, McMeekin wrote, "Citizens want to know if there is a good economic case for LRT and how it stacks up against other priorities."

In fact, the Province already undertook a benefits case analysis (BCA) on rapid transit along the east-west B-Line corridor in February 2010. Assuming an opening year of 2015, the BCA compared three options - full bus rapid transit (BRT), full LRT, and LRT phased in two parts - along a variety of criteria.

Full LRT was considered to be the best investment in terms of GDP growth, income, person-years of employment, development potential, land use shaping and qualitative user benefits.

McMeekin drew the same conclusion in another tweet: "LRT is not just moving people from point A to point B, more importantly it's about moving people and investment back to [the] inner city."

Asked whether the City's decision to de-prioritize LRT will cause Hamilton to lose out on the Metrolinx Top 15 Priority Projects funding, McMeekin replied, "Metrolinx and [the] City will need to answer."

He added, "It is critically important for [the] City to continue to engage citizens in this debate."

Unfortunately, by defunding the Rapid Transit office and redeploying all but one of its members to other projects, the city has just eliminated the very staff resources that were undertaking the citizen engagement McMeekin says we need.

Metrolinx Priorities

RTH contacted Metrolinx for details on where the regional transit body stands. Spokesperson Robin Alam was circumspect but responded, "The Hamilton B-line Light Rail Transit (LRT) project was identified in our Regional Transportation Plan, The Big Move, among the priority projects. At Metrolinx, we continue to work towards the vision of our plan while making sure projects demonstrate the best value for taxpayer dollar."

Asked whether Murray's decision to sideline the LRT project will risk its position in the top 15 priority projects, Alam said, "Projects will need to be in a state of readiness for funding consideration."

Alam also said that Metrolinx has "not asked the City of Hamilton to choose one project over the other."

"It is important to remember that both rapid transit initiatives planned for Hamilton – the Hamilton LRT and all day GO Train service from Toronto to Hamilton – are viable and can co-exist. Hamilton’s current rapid transit situation is not an 'either-or' scenario."

Alam repeatedly stated that Metrolinx staff are "supporting Hamilton staff" in their efforts to get the B-Line LRT project ready for a refined cost estimate. Once the planning and design work funded by the $3 million grant is completed, likely in late Fall, "we expect to review the results of the work and look forward to collaboratively working with the City of Hamilton on identifying the most appropriate next steps for this project."

Echoing McMeekin, Alam aded that public support for the plan, "along with on-going collaboration with our partners for transit infrastructure improvements, will be critical to successfully implementing the rapid transit this region needs."

The question of how much money the Province will commit remains unclear. "The potential for new funding commitments from the Province is unknown at this time."

In their 2007 re-election campaign, the Ontario Liberals promised "two light rail lines across Hamilton".

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.

18 Comments

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By Laura Cattari (anonymous) | Posted July 22, 2011 at 08:30:52

In a report dated Feb. 18th 2010, City Manager, Chris Murray submitted a report entitled International Event Opportunities – 2015 Pan Am Games Update (CM09006(b)), cited Go Transit "Construction is to begin in 2011, and service is to be in place by 2014. GO Transit recognizes that all day, two-way service train service is important for Hamilton from a PanAm perspective, but more important, from a City-building perspective." Did moving the site of the PanAm Stadium reduce the urgency and thereby change Go Transit timeline?
According to his report shovels should be hitting dirt this year but by latest press coverage sounds like it is a decade off or more. Development implications of a delay are enormous.
The August 9th, City Council GIC should be an interesting one.

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By JM (registered) | Posted July 22, 2011 at 08:52:23 in reply to Comment 66770

Did moving the site of the PanAm Stadium reduce the urgency and thereby change Go Transit timeline?

...most likely. i still wonder how this is a City of Hamilton priority to have this in operation in time for the Pan Am games considering there are no venues at the terminus! (that was part of the whole idea to begin with) can someone explain the logic behind this? buses will be needed to get to Ivor Wynne, and now all the way up to Mohawk College for the Velodrome (likely). chances are they will come directly from TO, and skip the trains all together.... why take two modes, wait for a transer, when you can just take one??

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By Ruh Roh (anonymous) | Posted July 22, 2011 at 09:17:24 in reply to Comment 66771

This is complete speculation, but maybe they're thinking of adding a train platform at Gage, which might require some staff planning and justify the recent shift from LRT. Keeping it quiet might ensure that potential real estate deals required for the project aren't soured.

I just hope it's not going to mean sacrificing stops/stations elsewhere.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted July 22, 2011 at 14:03:52 in reply to Comment 66778

The environmental assessment just wrapped up recently with no mention of a stop at Gage, in fact, the stop at Centenniel Parkway West (Confederation) that was recommended was seen as a compromise to the Centennial Parkway stop (would have been on the smart centre lands) which was further away from "East Hamilton".

Unless they're going to take another 6 months to do an Environmental Assessment for this as a "new site" and have to revisit their suggestions for all the other sites (including perhaps moving the Confederation stop back to Centennial, or eliminating it...) I don't think they're looking at an east end platform.

Frankly, Confederation wasn't a suggested stop initially either, it was added during the EA. Had they wanted to add a stop for the stadium, that would have been the time for someone to suggest it.

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By jason (registered) | Posted July 22, 2011 at 09:09:38 in reply to Comment 66771

also worth noting that the horrendous Pan Am stadium 'compromise' was also done behind closed doors and announced publicly before council had a chance to discuss it. Anyone else noticing a trend here? When did we become an autocratic/emperor form of governance?

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By mushroom (anonymous) | Posted July 22, 2011 at 09:26:05 in reply to Comment 66774

"When did we become an autocratic/emperor form of governance?" Right around the time that citizens started paying attention, bureaucrats hate that.

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By GOCatsGO (anonymous) | Posted July 22, 2011 at 09:12:17

This really is all moot isn't it?

The city needs to go to their urban planners on Jarvis. What do Bob and Scott want?

They called all the shots last year.

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By more roe pls (anonymous) | Posted July 22, 2011 at 09:29:52

Read between the lines, Ted McMeekin and Metrolinx are handing Bob Bratina and Chris Murray enough rope to hang themselves -- and Hamilton along with them. I wouldn't be surprised if the Province is quietly having a sigh of relief, if Hamilton wreckw it's own LRT bid because it's leaders are playing games, that gets Queen's Park off the hook to pay for it's funding promise made in better times.

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By JM (registered) | Posted July 22, 2011 at 11:21:06 in reply to Comment 66782

bang on...

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By Sigma Cub (anonymous) | Posted July 22, 2011 at 11:20:25 in reply to Comment 66782

The pledge of all-day GO Train service is potentially another savings. All it costs the province is a $3m terminal and the nominal commitment of a pilot project, like Niagara's three-year-old summer weekend-only service, which was extended ("renewed," an endorsement that is not necessarily permanent, is the preferred term) again this year based on satisfactory ridership numbers.

http://www.newswire.ca/en/releases/archive/April2011/15/c4540.html

Seems way cheaper than 2007's election-era Liberal airdrops of $7m into the Lister Block and $30 million into Randle Reef cleanup.

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By TnT (registered) | Posted July 24, 2011 at 00:55:57

I am in a position to speak with many foreign guests to Hamilton and the number one complaint is lack of connected transit. I have been basically lying to them I feel by bragging up LRT and GO

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By WRCU2 (registered) | Posted July 24, 2011 at 06:22:02 in reply to Comment 66848

in a position to speak with many foreign guests

This isn't going to help much when a "silent majority" of local residents begin asking tough questions like this:

As a member of the silent majority, I cannot for the life of me understand why a few loud Hamilton voices, The Spectator included, think we want or can afford the LRT. What could it possibly provide us overtaxed citizens that the HSR does not already?

What was that you said Tnt?

I have been basically lying to them I feel by bragging up LRT and GO

Oh, okay, thanks for letting us know. Anyhow, this is what another person said in response to, "What will LRT do that HSR doesn't?

The only thing it can provide taxpayers that the HSR can't is even higher taxes!

IT still looks to me like LRT is gonna be a tough sell, for the vocal local minority or even a back-packer's pal.

Comment edited by WRCU2 on 2011-07-24 07:00:17

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By TnT (registered) | Posted July 24, 2011 at 07:26:39 in reply to Comment 66851

Well don't discount this vocal minority. Visitors, students and relocaters to the city are more important then you can imagine. Dont get your points, or beef with my comments really.

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By WRCU2 (registered) | Posted July 24, 2011 at 09:53:28 in reply to Comment 66852

Dont get your points, or beef

Head in the clouds or high on a spleef? I don't get your joints either, is this karmic relief?

Now watch all the negative hits I'm going take for having the audacity to imply such a thing.

Comment edited by WRCU2 on 2011-07-24 10:32:50

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By TnT (registered) | Posted July 25, 2011 at 00:47:53

I guess just registration doesn't keep all the trolls out.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted July 26, 2011 at 14:43:36

"LRT is not just moving people from point A to point B, more importantly it's about moving people and investment back to [the] inner city."

Like Buffalo and Detroit right? Alot of inner city investment going on there.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted July 26, 2011 at 20:16:59 in reply to Comment 66912

Let's say Canada decided it wanted to build an LRT (costs $1 Billion per 525M people) system for cities right across Canada. This gives us a max investment of $65.6 Billion.

If we fund these LRT systems with 10 year Canada bonds, that amounts to ($6.56 Billion in principal + $1.92 Billion in interest) $8.48 Billion for ten years.

Canada's current GDP is $1.69 Trillion, which means these LRT costs would equal less than 0.5% of GDP in year 1 and assuming that GDP grows at the same rate it did last decade, would be down to 0.29% of GDP.

From 1997 - 2000, when our economy was strong, total debt charges in Canada averaged about 7.75% of GDP. Currently they are about 3.5% - 3.75% of GDP.

So even if we built LRT systems across Canada, it would still only take debt charges from 3.75% of GDP to 4.25% of GDP in year 1 and to 4.04% of GDP by year 10.

Even if LRT is a 100% waste of money, our economy is so large, it almost doesn't matter.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted July 26, 2011 at 14:52:28 in reply to Comment 66912

Capitalist, you have brought up these issues before, and I responded here in March 2009 and again here not two weeks ago. But as usual, you come back later and merely reiterate the same objection that was already addressed.

If you refuse to update your opinions based on the information provided to you, it becomes difficult to engage in a productive discussion.

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