Special Report: Light Rail

Building Support for Long-Term Regional Transit Funding

Demonstrating the benefits of real transit connectivity across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area will make it easier for the Province to sell the public on a long-term funding arrangement.

By Daniel Rodrigues
Published October 11, 2011

There is no question that Metrolinx and the Ontario Government have placed transit high on the priority list for the Greater Toronto/Hamilton Area (GTHA). With their numerous studies, white papers, and The Big Move, the GTHA is in a position to change the transportation scene radically in the next 25 to 30 years.

Unfortunately, there are many questions on the priorities of the projects needed to transform the GTHA and where the funding will come from to make everything possible.

For Hamilton, those questions carry more weight on moving forward than their neighbours to the East in Toronto. The primary reason for the aforementioned statement has to do with the funding questions.

Funding Alternatives

Currently, Metrolinx is studying funding alternatives aimed at feeding the required $2B/year transportation transformation for the next 15 or so years. There are four different options being reviewed at this time:

  1. Tolling all highways (which include the Linc, RHVP, 403, QEW, DVP, 401);
  2. Add a levy (AKA tax) to fuel purchases;
  3. Institute a parking lot levy on every spot on commercial properties, including existing parking lots;
  4. Add an additional percentage point (or two) to the HST.

For Hamiltonians, tapping into our population base to fund primary transportation upgrades in the GTA sans the "H", would probably go over like the proverbial 'lead balloon'.

This creates an opportunity for Metrolinx and the Ontario Government: "How do we get Hamiltonians to recognize that the above funding options are just as good for them as they are for the rest of the GTA?"

The answer to that question lies with two-way, all-day GO train service and LRT/BRT expansion services.

Positioning Hamilton for Funding

Faced with these answers, the push appears to be on to get the easier-to-implement option up and running first, which is GO.

With key Hamilton leaders championing the need for a GO expansion, while at the same time painting a picture of non-urgency around the LRT/BRT expansion services, the stage is set to position Hamilton in a priority position when the next round of funding is doled out.

After all, GO requires less start-up capital to expand services than LRT; it would immediately create a truer connection between Hamilton and Toronto; and it would impact vehicular traffic on the major roadways to the betterment.

Unfortunately, any LRT/BRT service expansions focused on Hamilton alone sans the GTA would carry the same angst for those residents who may feel slighted at having to opt in on a funding formula that has no connection to them - just like Hamilton would feel the angst funding a primarily GTA project.

Metrolinx needs to set a course on softening the wallets of the residents and businesses within the GTHA. Taking a macro approach first to establish true connectivity within the GTHA should minimize the objections to the "ask".

What is at stake here is more than just improving our transportation linkages; there is also a need to continue to attract residents and businesses to the GTHA knowing that it would cost them more to operate (due to the increased levies for Metrolinx), in the name of better efficiencies.

Dan Rodrigues was born and raised in London, Ontario, where he was an active community member in East London. He moved to Hamilton in late 1996, residing on the East Mountain. He has been married for 27 years, with a son who works with adults with physical and mental disabilities, and a daughter completing her degree in Chemistry at Western University this coming year. He is an active community volunteer, sitting on a number of committees and Boards, as well as coaching soccer. His professional life includes food and beverage industry sales and consulting, building industry sales, human resources consulting, and transportation consulting. Dan's diverse skills inventory allows for fuller discussion and better understanding of individual and community concerns. Currently, Dan is campaigning to be the Ward Six Councillor.

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted October 11, 2011 at 12:19:25

After all, GO requires less start-up capital to expand services than LRT; it would immediately create a truer connection between Hamilton and Toronto; and it would impact vehicular traffic on the major roadways to the betterment

With all due respect, Daniel, on what is this assertion based? We already have a true link to Toronto in the #16 GO Express Bus from Hamilton to Toronto--I use it quite often and it is reliable and quick . I suspect that if all-day-GO succeeds in bringing hourly trains to James St. N., this bus service will be scaled back or cancelled. Since it operates with much greater frequency than the trains do, and is much faster than trains outside of peak hours (~45mins), I'm curious as to how you see this affecting traffic on the QEW.

In fact, I wonder about the possibilities that service to and from Toronto will actually be worse with the addition of all-day GO train service.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted October 11, 2011 at 12:47:04 in reply to Comment 70416

Also, if a large-parking-lot-at-Centennial (similar to what they have at Burlington) becomes successful, I could see Go reducing or outright abandoning train service at the Hunter Street station.

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted October 11, 2011 at 13:18:42 in reply to Comment 70419

James North is not necessarily immune from the possibility of a large parking feature. Liuna Station has free parking for 500 cars, but it's Liuna Station and will probably be pretty emphatic about drawing lines in the sand. Any new GO platforms will need dedicated parking, and probably a decent amount of it: Halton's GO Stations have an average capacity of 2,100 spaces. That would certainly challenge the Hunter terminal.

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted October 11, 2011 at 13:14:00 in reply to Comment 70419

I could see Go reducing or outright abandoning train service at the Hunter Street station.

'Can open, worms all over.'

Nothing is as constant as change. Besides people's resistance to it.

Hamilton has seen its bus station go from King...'Terminal Towers'...to Rebecca...to Hunter. Oh, and to MacNab. Surely it's reasonable to assume that when the Liuna (James St North) and Confederation Park (Centennial Parkway) stations are initiated, things will change. That there will be knock-on effects, that as Borrelli has suggested, bus service will probably go away and that as you've suggested, train service at Hunter will be eliminated, too.

A city with its wits about it adapts. It projects. It strategizes. Now, while I'm not conversant in how things were seen to develop for today's world ten, twenty years ago, what strikes me...at least over the past year...is that there ain't a whole lot of cogent, visionary strategizing going on right now.

I think we need a whole lot of discourse going on over the next while.

Comment edited by mystoneycreek on 2011-10-11 13:14:40

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted October 11, 2011 at 18:50:11 in reply to Comment 70420

I'm more concerned that GO will abandon Hunter completely, leaving the downtown core isolated from transit.

If the bus service to Toronto (both Lakeshore West and QEW Express) ends up getting removed in favour of all day GO trains out of James North, what does GO really have to offer out of Hunter Street except the 407 express to York?

Since that bus already stops at McMaster, why bother having it come into downtown Hamilton at all? Eliminate the downtown Hamilton station as unnecessary, and force people to use the McMatser terminal if they wnat to take the 407 Express to York University.

Now we've eliminated GO service in the core completely.

How's that for visionary strategizing?

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted October 11, 2011 at 19:17:17 in reply to Comment 70432

Since that bus already stops at McMaster, why bother having it come into downtown Hamilton at all? Eliminate the downtown Hamilton station as unnecessary, and force people to use the McMatser terminal if they wnat to take the 407 Express to York University.

Now we've eliminated GO service in the core completely.

Well... I think that we'd have to take another look at what constitutes 'the core'.

And the weighting of having everything originating/terminating in such a place.

I'm a little aware of the inherent problems of trying to focus train lines in the downtown, not an expert by any means, but if given that Liuna makes sense in a world where there's a station-stop at Centennial and others towards Niagara, then the Hunter Street station has served its (relatively) short-term purpose.

And as I agree that I can't imagine bus express being maintained if we have all-day rail service, then that too, will have served its purpose and will be removed.

Frankly, the McMaster GO stop has never made any sense to me; how much further away would be 'too far' for it to be on the routes it's currently on, within the construct we've had in place? Dundas? I've taken both routes and it's always been exasperating...so I don't see why McMaster shouldn't have its own separate thing going on anyway.

So this would mean that the Hunter Street station would be used for HSR, Greyhound and Coach Canada. And...?

Nobody ever said we'd be able to keep everything we currently have in place. (And who'd want to, anyway?)

What we will need is a good connector from 'the core' to Liuna and Hunter...which is why I don't subscribe to an exclusively LRT east/west corridor running from Eastgate to McMaster.

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted October 12, 2011 at 11:56:27 in reply to Comment 70438

It's about a 3km return loop north along Hughson from Hunter to James and Murray, then south up James to the Hunter GO. It'd be easy to introduce an express shuttle timed to coincide with rail arrivals/departures, stopping only at York/Wilson and King between stations. And it could be scaled back to a demi-bus (like you see sometimes in Dundas and Waterdown) if demand isn't there.

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By Eric Doherty (anonymous) | Posted October 11, 2011 at 14:49:06

With regard to funding, it is worthwhile taking a look at what is being spent on roadway expansion. In the recent Canadian Centre for Policy alternatives paper I co-authored we estimated that $1 to $1.5 billion a year could be re-allocated from roadway expansion to transit and other low carbon modes in BC, the figure for Ontario would be much higher. In tough economic times partly due to high oil prices it really pays to look at the existing transportation budget. see www.policyalternatives.ca/transportationtransformation

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By DanielRodrigues (registered) - website | Posted October 11, 2011 at 19:04:23

To respond to @Borrelli with respects to my comments regarding the proposed 2-way, all-day GO train service and it's establishment of a truer connectivity between Hamilton and Toronto:

While there is an existing express bus service between Hamilton and Toronto, I'm not sure that you could place that service as the 'better' connection between Hamilton and Toronto over a full-time train service. While there is no arguement that the bus can provide quicker times, (and being a semi-regular user of the bus, I have experienced your observations of it's benefits), there still remains a stigma over 'bus' versus the sexier 'train' service. Certainly the pundits have pushed the 'train' is better then the 'bus' in the push for LRT, and the same arguements could be applied to the GO train service.

The comment regarding the curtailing of traffic applies to realizing a higher capacity train over the 55-seat bus. Add with the assertion that the train is preferred over the bus for travel considerations, it is safe to comment that only a positive outcome will be realized.

I will agree with Borrelli that service may actually suffer with the conversion from buses to trains, as I have even opted to take the bus to get to Hamilton faster than the train could deliver me from Toronto. However, I suspect we may be in the minority in choosing the bus over a train. I know in some of my conversations with my peers about taking the GO to Toronto, the conversation quickly goes south when I mention that I used the bus :p

The point of the post is to illustrate that when Metrolinx and the Ontario Government go fishing for more funds from the GTHA, and they show the map of the services they are either providing or proposing to provide, a solid train line looks a lot more attractive than a dotted bus line. Especially when that line can be illustrated sooner rather than later...unlike LRT, which will unfortunately remain dotted for longer than some Hamiltonians desire.

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted October 12, 2011 at 12:12:34 in reply to Comment 70435

The convenience of the QEW Express Bus may be a factor in its ridership numbers, though. You can catch it from a half-dozen stops between the Hunter terminal and the highway, which is a notable convenience. A train that leaves one fixed location at a set time with no looking back may not compel ridership simply because it's sexier.

The cost-benefits analysis attached to rail as opposed to bus is bound to be different in some way. GO would probably be happy about all-day bus service if the outbound ridership was 200 people an hour... since buses seat about 57 passengers each. But 200 people an hour would be considerably less impressive in the context of a couple of trains made of 10 or 12 bilevel cars... since each car seats about 360 passengers each. At some point someone's going to crunch numbers and decide whether the pilot program continues or not.

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By Sigma Cub (anonymous) | Posted December 11, 2011 at 09:54:52

"Local transit ridership in the first six months of 2011 was up 5.6 per cent over the same period in 2010, putting Burlington ahead of the national average of 4.9 per cent, according to national statistics released by the Canadian Transit Association."

http://www.insidehalton.com/community/burlington/article/1260757

Wonder how the HSR fared (pardon the pun)?

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