Special Report: Light Rail

Hamilton Won't be Exempt from Provincial Transit Funding Strategy

Some councillors are trying to redefine the Province collecting revenue to finance Metrolinx projects to mean making Hamilton pay.

By Ryan McGreal
Published February 21, 2014

In a Spectator article today, Hamilton Mayor Bob Bratina is quoted once again confusing the issues around the City's light rail transit (LRT) plan for the east-west B-Line:

Bratina said he doesn't think there's strong support for a light rapid transit (LRT) plan for the city without heavy financial contributions from the provincial government.

"I'm not aware of any public perception that is overwhelmingly in favour of construction of an LRT. There certainly were many interested folks and the stimulation of the original 100 per cent funding encouraged a lot of people to say 'what's this about?'" but that has changed with a recent provincial statement it would not fund the entire cost of the project.

Spectator columnist Andrew Dreschel has already interpreted this to mean that if Bratina runs for re-election, it will likely be on an anti-LRT platform.

But back up the train a minute: what is Bratina actually talking about when he refers to a "recent provincial statement" that it won't fund the full capital cost of Hamilton's LRT plan?

I'm not aware of any statement that the Province has abandoned the capital funding model it has been following since 2007.

What the Ontario Government has been saying consistently for years is that it intends to approve a mix of provincial "revenue tools" - road tolls, gas tax, development charges, commercial parking levies and so on - to pay for the next phase of Metrolinx regional transit projects.

Provincial Funding Sources

When Council voted to submit its LRT plan to Metrolinx, it was based on the idea that the full capital cost would come from the Province, and not from the municipal capital budget. That is consistent with the Metrolinx model in which the Province comes up with the money to pay for the full capital cost of Metrolinx projects.

The Province is perfectly within its rights to use whatever legislative means are at its disposal to raise the revenue it will need to keep its capital funding commitments so that cities do not have to fund Metrolinx projects via municipal revenue streams like property tax.

But recently, some Councillors have been suggesting that whatever regional or even province-wide revenue tools the Province employs to fund those projects should not be applied to Ontario residents who happen to live in Hamilton.

It would be ridiculous for City Council to try and exercise a veto on what the Province decides to impose on Ontarians living in Hamilton. A municipal government is a legislated child of Provincial policy, not the other way around!

Imagine the Province decided it needed to raise provincial income taxes to pay for new hospitals, and Hamilton City Council demanded that the rate increase should not apply to provincial taxpayers living in Hamilton - and then turned down a hospital construction in Hamilton unless Hamiltonians got an exemption!

It makes absolutely no sense. I don't remember Council demanding that Hamiltonians should not have to pay the Ontario Health Premium or that money from it should not be invested in Hamilton hospitals.

Most astonishing is the cut-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face notion that if Ontarians living in Hamilton have to participate in Provincial revenue-generating tools to fund Metrolinx, Hamilton should then reject the LRT system that those tools would fund.

In that case, we would not only still have to contribute to the Metrolinx investment fund, but we would not even get anything to show for it! Instead, Hamiltonians would be helping, through Provincial fundraising tools, to pay for transformative capital transit investments in the other GTHA cities against which we are competing for residents and business investments.

So perhaps what Bratina means is that the Province collecting revenue from people who live in Hamilton somehow constitutes making Hamilton pay some of the cost of the LRT.

Of course it doesn't: if the Ontario government decides to collect highway tolls or commercial parking levies and then apply that money to build transit, *not a penny of that money is coming out of a budget that Council needs to balance.*

Metrolinx Investment Strategy

When the Province launched MoveOntario 2020 in 2007 and established the Greater Toronto Transit Authority (soon renamed Metrolinx), the plan was to move quickly with the first phase of ready-to-go transit projects using a one-time provincial capital endowment, release a 25-year Regional Transportation Plan (called "The Big Move"), and then develop an investment strategy to generate $2 billion a year in ongoing revenue streams for subsequent projects.

Metrolinx had already begun work on that investment strategy in 2008, investigating potential revenue tools for the Province to consider. Of course, implementing any combination of tolls, fees and levies is politically dicey, and the Ontario Government spent the next several years putting off a decision with a succession of studies, panels and advisory committees.

Then, the 2011 election left the governing Liberals with a minority of seats in the Ontario Legislature, meaning they would need the support of at least one opposition party to implement any new revenue tools.

When Metrolinx finally unveiled its investment strategy in 2013, the opposition parties - the Progressive Conservatives and the Ontario New Democratic Party - both stated their opposition to any new taxes, charges, tolls, fees or levies.

The Ontario NDP say they support The Big Move but oppose any new taxes, fees, levies or tolls to pay for it. They have said they would fund the plan in part by reversing $1.3 billion in corporate tax cuts. They have not said where the other $700 million would come from.

The PCs would significantly change the Regional Transportation Plan, focusing on subways for Toronto and highway expansions for the rest of the region. PC leader Tim Hudak has specifically said he is opposed to an LRT in Hamilton. They say they will pay for the plan by laying off provincial employees and selling public buildings.

The bottom line is that one knows when the next Provincial election will take place or what the distribution of seats will look like after the election.

If the Liberals win a majority, they will likely implement the funding tools and the next phase of Metrolinx projects will go ahead.

If the NDP win a majority, they will likely reverse the corporate tax cuts and the next phase of Metrolinx projects will go ahead.

If the PCs win a majority, they will likely kill Hamilton's LRT and greenlight the Mid-Peninsula Highway.

And if we end up with another minority government, the carousel of indecision will likely continue to grind along.

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 Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted February 21, 2014 at 14:12:47

Funding transit through new revenue streams may be politically dicey, but it's far more fraught when you lack the numbers to push an agenda. Pity the Liberals didn't put that second majority government to better use.

I imagine that some of the confusion may be a result of Hamilton being named as one of five projects in the original MoveOntario 2020 press release (June 2007), which encourages the belief that it is one of the five priority commitments funded by a $17.5 billion commitment from the province, when in reality the commitment to the opening salvo of The Big Move was $11.5 billion, the money went into Toronto projects and Hamilton's LRT was one of 52 projects vying for a spot in the queue. Even Metrolinx's recent back-of-napkin funding ask ($34 billion to complete the $50 billion, evidently inflation-immune TBM), reflects a provincial investment-to-date to be $16 billion.

The province will do what it considers best whenever it decides the time is right, I'm sure.

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By John Vail (anonymous) | Posted February 21, 2014 at 14:56:15

Back in 2008 many of us were advocating LRT as a City building exercise because the Province indicated that we MIGHT have been in the first tier of funding which of course did not happen for various reasons and finger pointing will not work In reality spending a Billion Dollars of money funded by local taxation when it is proven that we already are essentially at our debt ceiling locally with at least a 200 million dollar infrastructure deficit right now this minute and when reports come out even this week to City Council that we have some of the highest per property tax rates in Ontario makes LRT unaffordable and unwise to put on the property tax base Lets move on get over it and look at BRT which even the revered rock star City Planner of Toronto says is cost effective i.e. one tenth the cost of LRT and achieves the same

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 21, 2014 at 15:25:24 in reply to Comment 97806

That is an awful lot of misinformation in just one long run-on sentence.

Back in 2008 many of us were advocating LRT as a City building exercise because the Province indicated that we MIGHT have been in the first tier of funding...

I'm not aware of any support for LRT that was contingent on LRT being built in the first batch of projects. The City didn't even have its functional and detailed engineering and design and environmental assessment process completed until early 2013.

In reality spending a Billion Dollars of money funded by local taxation

The funding will come from Provincial funding sources, not local taxation. The Province collects revenue from all Ontarians, including Ontarians who live in Hamilton.

when it is proven that we already are essentially at our debt ceiling locally

We are not at a "debt ceiling" locally. We've got an AA credit rating, which is consistent with our rating over the past three decades and also in band with other Ontario municipalities (most are AA or AAA).

In any case, a Provincial investment in a capital project in Hamilton wil not add to Hamilton's capital deficit.

with at least a 200 million dollar infrastructure deficit

You're right that this is a serious problem we need to address. However, the Province paying the capital cost for a new project in Hamilton will not add to Hamilton's infrastructure deficit. In fact, it will allow Hamilton to make more productive use of the municipal infrastructure that is already built, by increasing per capita property tax revenue and reducing per capita infrastructure lifecycle costs.

makes LRT unaffordable and unwise to put on the property tax base

Again, the whole point of Metrolinx is that the LRT capital cost will not be funded from the property tax base. It will be funded by the Province.

Lets move on get over it and look at BRT

The City and Province have studied BRT extensively for several years. It has a capital cost about one-third as high as LRT, but it will attract fewer new riders and a lot less new private investment than LRT, and will actually have a higher per passenger operating and life-cycle cost.

which even the revered rock star City Planner of Toronto says is cost effective

Here's what Jennifer Keesmaat said when she came to Hamilton last December: "Go after light rail transit. It's a total game changer."

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted February 21, 2014 at 16:59:04 in reply to Comment 97808

attract fewer new riders and a lot less new private investment than LRT

LRT is very attractive, basically a bullish confirmation candle that Hamilton is committed to its future and livability in a serious and permanent way.

BRT is repulsive. Just more large tailpipes competing for breathable air. I do support for its mass transit properties, it's awesome where it's the right tool, don't misunderstand, but if we're going to do this, King/Main deserve a proper modern and clean implementation. BRT shows continued indecision on sustainability direction (from my perspective).

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By laugh till you cry (anonymous) | Posted February 21, 2014 at 15:52:59

This is some silly posturing by council. Anyone who thinks we'll be allowed to beg out of the provincial funding tools is fooling themselves. I bet the province would like nothing more than for Hamilton to say No thanks, we don't want a LRT after all, but let us pay those tolls and fees so Mississauga can still get theirs!

But don't worry about Aerotropolis. It's going to cost a billion dollars but we'll cover that one on our own dime. Gotta keep the home builders happy after all.

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 21, 2014 at 19:28:00 in reply to Comment 97809

bingo. And the cloverleaf at Hwy 5/6 so people can save 11 seconds on their way to Walmart. But keeping up with K-W, Ottawa, TO, Brampton and Mississauga for the hopes of attracting the next generation to our city?? No thanks. We'll pay into the pot but gladly allow all of those cities to reap the reward. We're fine with more gas stations and big box stores.

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted February 25, 2014 at 12:15:42 in reply to Comment 97818

Brampton is complicated.

thestar.com/news/gta/2013/05/08/brampton_mayors_lastminute_lrt_alternative_stuns_mississauga_mayor_hazel_mccallion.html

bramptonguardian.com/news-story/4208221-city-weighing-its-lrt-options/

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By Annoyed (anonymous) | Posted February 21, 2014 at 19:42:45

This is BULLSHNACKS! You want BRT? You don't think we need LRT for environmental, socioeconomic gains? Seriously? Who are these people and what are they smoking.

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By Reality (anonymous) | Posted February 22, 2014 at 16:41:57

The only way the Liberals will be able to go ahead with any of their tax increases is if they get a majority government and that isn't likely to happen. The PC's and NDP are already on record as opposing any new taxes to fund this, so the Liberals are going to have to find funding from within the current revenue streams if they want to proceed. Most of the Metrolinx wishlist will never see daylight.

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By CaptainKirk (anonymous) | Posted February 22, 2014 at 23:56:07

While the NDP is opposed to the current funding concepts, they are in favour of the idea of The Big Move. It's quite possible they could work something out. They know something has to change drastically. The business world is calling for this too.

Hudak and his party are out of touch.

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By Azher (anonymous) | Posted February 23, 2014 at 01:54:39

Just putting this out there for people's consideration:

Has Metrolinx/ and/or the various ministries responsible for highways, etc., look at converting one or two lanes on the major 400 series highways into public transit railways? If tracks were installed across the 403, 401, 410, QEW, with stops at each exit, I'm sure that would cut traffic/ pollution in half if not more.

All that would need to be done as far as I could tell is to alter the exits/entrances from the highway to allow for safe pedestrian access, and increase bus service along the exit corridors. Most highway ramps have more than enough room to accommodate a sidewalk, bike lanes, and even stair wells where there are bridges.

Essentially, I'm thinking of dedicated lanes like the HOV lanes, but for high speed trains, running along the right side of the highway. Metrolinx is already doing something like this with MiWay in Mississauga using buses. I'm just wondering why not use existing highway lanes for high speed rail.

Surely this is something some experts somewhere out there have considered? I'd like to know if and why this wouldn't be possible. Is it being done anywhere else? Or perhaps I'm being too naive to think something like that could work.

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By hrt (anonymous) | Posted February 23, 2014 at 09:13:11 in reply to Comment 97850

No, but Metrolinx does plan to electrify some of the GO train lines.

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By Reaperexpress (anonymous) | Posted February 23, 2014 at 15:06:51

I think someone (may have been the Province, might have just been some individual/firm) looked into putting a railway line in the median of Highway 401 through Toronto a few years ago. Additionally, the Spadina subway line in Toronto (built 1978) is largely in the median of the Allen Expressway (formerly Spadina Expressway, hence the name of the line). The problem with railways paired with highways is that highways are generally not near trip destinations or origins. As a result, in order to be successful, a railway on or next to a highway must be very fast in order to make it worth people's time to go out of their way to get to it. A railway with stops at each interchange (typical urban spacing is about 2km) averages about 40 km/h*, nowhere near fast enough to offset the travel time to and from stations.

Where highways are more useful as potential railways is for longer-distance trips between cities. The median of a highway is pretty much the cheapest place to build high speed rail, because it avoids the two largest expenses: building bridges over the railway and leveling the ground. Unfortunately using the existing highway space limits train speeds because highways' curves are designed for only 110 - 120 km/h. Trains can take corners a bit faster than road vehicles because they are on rails and can be tilted at a higher angle, but we'd still be lucky to top 150 km/h. Railways beside of highways (think Missisauga Transitway) are less cost-saving, because they still represent entirely new construction (bridges, tunnels, grading etc.).

Here are a couple railways in the median of highways I can can think of:
- Metrolink San Bernadino line in the median of Interstate-10 (Los Angeles)
- Line 25N in the median of Autoroute 1 between Brussel and Antwerpen in Belgium

However, the potential for highway-based railways in the GTHA is fairly limited, because most of our highways already have parallel railways, almost all of which are owned by Metrolinx (GO Transit). Many of them also have line geometry as good or better than what we'd get from a railway in a highway. For example, the speed limit on the Lakeshore Line is already 153 km/h (95 mph), and on the Kitchener Line, upgrades through Toronto are increasing the speed limit from 130 km/h to 145 km/h.

*Based on the Yonge North subway line, which has 2km stop spacing.

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By PublicSpacePete (registered) | Posted February 24, 2014 at 09:18:45

Thanks for the information everyone. It seems as though the tracks and electricity lines are the big cost part of LRT. Are electric buses in restricted lanes not a good in between solution; battery technology is developing quickly. Most buses sit all night which would be a good time to charge them up and in fact if there are easily interchangeable batteries at each end of the line, that would reduce battery size further. Just a thought. Let me know the pros and cons.

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