Special Report: Light Rail

Bratina Interviews Metrolinx CEO

Hamilton Mayor Bob Bratina interviews Metrolinx President and CEO Bruce McCuaig about the Metrolinx Investment Strategy and how it will impact Hamilton.

By Ryan McGreal
Published April 01, 2013

In his periodic broadcast program for Cable 14, "Bob Bratina's Hamilton", Mayor Bob Bratina recently interviewed Bruce McCuaig, President and CEO of Metrolinx.

The full interview is worth watching for anyone who takes an interest in Hamilton's LRT plan, but here are some highlights.

Early in the interview, McCuaig and Bratina dance a little bit around the matter of Hamilton's rapid transit line and whether it is going to be Light Rail Transit or some other kind of Rapid Transit. A communication from Metrolinx in early February dropped the L from their mention of Hamilton's rapid transit plan.

McCuaig responds:

Coming together out of that plan in 2008 [when Metrolinx was formed] was a recognition that rapid transit - and rapid transit includes light rail transit, it includes bus rapid transit, it includes subways, it includes GO Transit - that we needed to have a rapid transit line here in Hamilton. Now, with the recent work from the City of Hamilton in terms of the Rapid Ready process, I think that sets the stage and the partnership that we have going forward to deliver on what I think is a great opportunity to build light rail transit rapid transit here in the City of Hamilton.

The city's Rapid Ready report, the culmination of years of city planning for an east-west B-Line LRT, was submitted to Metrolinx after Council received it in late February.

In his interview with Bratina, McCuaig also talks about the Metrolinx Investment Strategy, which Metrolinx will submit to the Province in June. Metrolinx has documented 26 different revenue tools that regions around the world have used to fund transportation infrastructure and are preparing recommendations on what tools the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area should use to fund the next wave of projects in the Big Move transportation plan - of which Hamilton's B-Line is a top priority.

McCuaig does not offer a recommendation for a specific mix of revenue tools, but he does sketch out the principals Metrolinx is following in developing its recommendations:

We are looking at four key principals that we tested with the public ... and they're principles like dedicated funding. People want to see that if they're being asked to invest over here that it's going for these specific projects. They want to know that there's a straight line commitment between, if I'm paying for something that I'm actually going to get these outcomes. So that's the first principal.

The second one is fairness. There should be a really tight link between, if I'm contributing towards something through investments or revenue tools, then I'm also benefiting. So there's a connection between the costs and the benefits.

The third one is equity around the region. People want to know that if the entire region is paying for our infrastructure that the entire region is benefiting from it. So it's not focused only on one community, that every community from Oshawa to Hamilton to Barrie are going to be receiving the benefits from this.

And I think the fourth one that resonated very well with the public is accountability and transparency. They want to see that any monies collected are being managed properly, are being reported publicly, that people see progress, and they see the outcomes in the end. So there has to be a very transparent way to be reporting back to the public on a regular basis.

Bratina asks McCuaig about the recent mixed messaging between Metrolinx spokesperson Leslie Woo and Transport Minister Glen Murray about funding.

Woo indicated that municipalities that offer capital contributions will get higher priority than municipalities that don't, while Murray said on the same day that municipalities will not be expected to make direct capital contributions.

This mixed messaging is nothing new. In October 2011, Metrolinx vice president John Howe told Hamilton Councillors that Metrolinx was assuming full capital funding of Hamilton's line, but in August 2012, former Transport Minister Bob Chiarelli told Bratina that Hamilton would have to come up with some of its own capital.

In this interview, McCuaig treads carefully and doesn't address the underlying question of whether cities will have to contribute capital, though he maintains that Metrolinx and the Transport Ministry are "on the same page".

I would really put it down to one key piece: we need to have a strong partnership with municipalities for the projects that we're going to be delivering - for no other reason than that we're building this infrastructure on your roads, or under your roads, or above your roads, and we need to have that partnership. And when we're looking at the scheduling of projects, we're going to have to think about project readiness, we're going to have to think about the link between the project and your land use policies to make sure that we're getting as much benefit from intensification and new development as we possibly can. We're going to have to think about the funding, the right staging plan, and how all the projects fit together. So there's going to be a whole bunch of factors that go into the mix.

It seems likely at this point that the Investment Strategy will entail at least in part giving municipalities tools that they can use to generate revenue for investment into rapid transit projects.

In a more detailed look at how Hamilton will connect internally and to the Metrolinx regional network, Bratina draws specific attention to the importance of north-south linkages within Hamilton. Bratina has suggested on many occasions the he believes north-south connectivity is a higher priority than the city's east-west B-Line plan.

When they're talking more specifically about Hamilton's Rapid Ready B-Line plan, things get a bit interesting:

Bratina: [holding up a model GO Train engine] Is there anything we can say specifically right now in terms of other parts of the Rapid Ready planning - is it, are there still various configurations that we might see in terms of how the project evolves?

McCuaig: How the GO Project or the -

Bratina: Not the GO, but the bus, the rapid, the light rail -

McCuaig: Absolutely. Well, we've been working with the City of Hamilton for some time now in terms of getting the LRT projects ready for implementation when it's the right time to do that. So, in going through that process, there are some really specific questions that will have to be answered in terms of alignments, in terms of where vehicles are maintained and stored overnight, for example, where specific station locations are. So there's still work that's being done, largely being driven by your staff in the City of Hamilton, but we're working very closely with them.

And one of the pieces is you look at the implementation of Rapid Ready is, is how do we actually connect up and down the James North corridor so that the new station is well connected to the rest of the local transit system. And there obviously are opportunities for bus connections, but I know the city has plans as well for the A-Line for the future, too. So we want to keep talking about those, and see how we can fit those into the plans.

Again, the full interview is well worth watching. You can learn more about the Metrolinx plan by visiting thebigmove.ca.

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.

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By Rimshot (anonymous) | Posted April 01, 2013 at 14:06:17

FOUR MORE YEARS! FOUR MORE YEARS!

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By RenaissanceWatcher (registered) | Posted April 01, 2013 at 14:13:02

Thanks for posting the McCuaig interview.

Meanwhile, here is the link to a CBC Hamilton article today by Adam Carter titled "City fails to meet public transit targets, looks at restructuring system": http://www.cbc.ca/hamilton/news/story/20...

Comment edited by RenaissanceWatcher on 2013-04-01 14:13:19

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By Bratman (anonymous) | Posted April 01, 2013 at 14:34:35

I see the mayors still pushing his north south preference, so much for promising to support the city's plan.

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By shmee (anonymous) | Posted April 01, 2013 at 21:42:10 in reply to Comment 87598

If he genuinely wants to do the Upper James thing, then he better get started on intensifying and re-developing the corridor in anticipation of LRT. That'll keep him busy a few years.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted April 02, 2013 at 15:48:41 in reply to Comment 87603

Upper James would be hard as heck to work on, because it's probably the most congested road in the city. I can't think of any place in town I've seen that's a slower slog at rush-hour than Upper James.

Considering the massive parking lots, I'm surprised they haven't chewed them away to widen it. Either way, Upper James is probably the ideal place to run some kind of special transit on the Mountain, but also the most challenging location for it.

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By ScreamingViking (registered) | Posted April 02, 2013 at 18:37:04 in reply to Comment 87610

It's probably the most likely street in the southern part of the city to begin intensification, mainly between Fennell and Rymal (with or without LRT, but an improved A-line BRT service for sure)

There are probably a lot of things that can be started at specific intersections, especially at Mohawk and at Stonechurch.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted April 03, 2013 at 01:29:01 in reply to Comment 87612

From way back in 2006, my vision of a restored Upper James.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted April 03, 2013 at 15:37:13 in reply to Comment 87614

I have to disagree with the caption "the corner of Upper James and Rymal represents commercial planning at its worst." Meadowlands is worse. The Upper James/Rymal plaza has a continuous sidewalk. Strip malls can be pedestrian-friendly - look at University Plaza, which has nicely covered wide comfortable walkway across the whole thing, and by happy accident backs out onto the Rail Trail.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted April 03, 2013 at 16:40:37 in reply to Comment 87630

Feel free to mentally replace "at its worst" with "at its second worst next to the Meadowlands" if it will help you to see my point.

Alternately, try walking around Upper James and Rymal - better yet, try walking to and from Upper James and Rymal from any other destination.

I shall expect a full report upon your return.

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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted April 01, 2013 at 14:41:36

McCuaig ‘s default oratorical setting is “oatmeal,” but he can two-step with the best of them. The 14-word run of “what I think is a great opportunity to build light rail transit rapid transit” contains at least three potential escape hatches.

The funding principles he describes seem similarly porous.

Principle 2, “Fairness”, is a fabulously squishy yardstick and subjective criterium. Anything that alleviates the infrastructure pressure west of the Brant Street exit can be reasonably argued to benefit all in the GTHA. It has been claimed that gridlock in the GTA saps the provincial economy of an estimated $6 billion a year. The population of the GTHA is roughly 6.5 million. That goes to Principle 3, “Equity Around the Region”. Notice that, as in principle 2, that he avoids the pitfalls of “equality” or “proportionality”. There is considerable latitude built in. In addition to partnering with the HSR and providing Hamilton’s GO service, Metrolinx also helms roadwork such as widening the 401 (http://www.metrolinx.com/thebigmove/en/strategies/strategy3.aspx). Depending on the legislative legalese, “equity” might be a gimme. Electrification on the Lakeshore West Line or putting a handful of GO buses into the rotation could constitute transit improvements.

All in the GTHA will ultimately benefit from The Big Move in some way, even if it’s just improved goods movement. That gives the government a free hand in engineering its dedicated levy, and justification to do as it wishes. As always, it probably comes down to political arithmetic.

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