Special Report: Light Rail

Still Time for Leadership on LRT

LRT could be a reality for Hamilton if our leaders have the understanding, vision and political courage to champion it, stick-handle it through opposition, and forcefully negotiate a good funding arrangement.

By Ryan McGreal
Published May 02, 2014

The release yesterday of the 2014 Ontario budget shed no new light on whether and to what extent the Province will uphold its promise to fund Hamilton's east-west Light Rail Transit (LRT) system. That's the bad news. The good news is that neither did it slam the door on a funding commitment.

Whereas the budget specifically identifies "LRT" as the technology for the Hurontario rapid transit line connecting Mississauga and Brampton and "Bus Rapid Transit" (BRT) as the technology for Dundas Street, Hamilton's line is still a generic "Rapid Transit".


"Hamilton Rapid Transit" in 2014 Ontario Budget

The City submitted its Rapid Ready LRT plan to the Province in February 2013, more than a year ago. The report assumed a 100% capital funding commitment from the Province, which has been the default funding arrangement for Greater Toronto/Hamilton Area (GTHA) transit projects funded through Metrolinx.

The province still hasn't formally responded, but Transport Minister Glen Murray keeps saying the city's leaders need to sit down with him to discuss the funding arrangement. Murray has indicated that the City might have to contribute something toward the capital cost, but that there are options to do so through tax-increment financing - borrowing against future increases in property tax assessments - rather than diverting money out of the property tax base.

Making it Easy for Province to Break Promise

It's not often that a Provincial cabinet minister actually reaches out to spend time with a city council. Murray is clearly eager to see this project go ahead, and he stopped just short of telling us we'd be crazy not to invest in LRT, given the huge return on investment in new high-quality development around the line.

Yet the local reaction has been literally to call him names. Councillor Sam Merulla called Murray's comments "delusional", "nonsensical" and "moronic".

Councillor Chad Collins insists that LRT is "well over a decade away from even close to offering a new system", even though we already have a 30% engineering and detail design, a completed environmental assessment and even a land use plan to encourage development. There's no reason, aside from lack of political will, why we couldn't have a system up and running within a few years.

Councillor Brad Clark, who is running for Mayor, now opposes LRT after supporting the city's LRT planning since 2008. He says the Province not specifying a technology "sends a clear signal" to Hamilton that they will only fund BRT.

It seems that most of the Councillors who are doing anything at all are making it as easy as possible for the Province to decide not to fund LRT - after which they will surely point to the decision as justification for their lack of leadership.

Only a few have done anything to champion LRT. Councillor Brian McHattie, who is running for mayor, wrote a letter to Premier Kathleen Wynne earlier this year to state that Hamilton is ready for LRT funding. (Disclosure: I have done some volunteering with McHattie's campaign.)

Last week, the joint City-Chamber of Commerce LRT Task Force voted to reiterate Council's support for 100 percent provincial funding, but also stated that if the City does have to contribute something toward the capital cost, the Province should pay those costs upfront and allow the City to use alternate funding tools, like tax-increment financing, instead of having to pay via the property tax base.

Councillors McHattie and Jason Farr, who sit on the task force, voted along with the motion, while Councillor Lloyd Ferguson, who also sits on the task force but wasn't present for the vote, later spoke against it.

Leadership Vacuum in Mayor's Office

It's truly disappointing that most city councillors either don't see - or, for populist reasons, refuse to acknowledge - the strong, evidence-based case for supporting and showing leadership on LRT, but at least they have some justification for taking a parochial view. After all, each of them is ultimately accountable only to the voters of their own ward.

Far more egregious is the total absence of leadership from the Mayor's office. The man who is "not a champion of very much in life" has spent his entire mayoralty confusing, misinforming, mis-characterizing and undermining the case for LRT at every opportunity.

This includes consistently misrepresenting what the city's Rapid Ready LRT plan says, and he was at it again yesterday:

The Rapid Ready plan, Bratina said, outlines that the city will grow its ridership with BRT and eventually implement LRT. He expects the discussions to revolve around "rapid transit which sometime in the future will lead to LRT."

Bratina is still twisting the meaning of the Rapid Ready plan a year after the fiasco in which Council reiterated its support for LRT amid Bratina's excruciating attempt to confuse the issue.

Rapid Ready is a comprehensive road map to a city with a much better overall transit system, but there is no question that LRT on the B-Line is the centrepiece of the plan. At last April's meeting, a commendably patient City Manager Chris Murray repeated what he had already told council back in February:

In terms of where we've been all along, we've been focused all along on the B-Line and advancing the detail of that B-Line so the Province can make a decision on the B-Line. Okay?

But clearly Rapid Ready has added to that a number of other investments that, should they choose, should the Province choose to defer the B-Line to some later date, we are still there with our hand in the air saying, wait a minute, there are other things you should be investing here in Hamilton. ...

We think investing in transit, LRT specifically, in the City of Hamilton is something fundamental to our growth, and that, you know, it's really at the end of the day up to the Province to make a decision about what it is it wants to invest here in Hamilton.

(This, of course, was followed by the infamous uproar in which Bratina left his seat to berate Murray, prompting Councillor Jason Farr to lose his temper and call the mayor "awful nasty".)

What Leadership Looks Like

There's a reason Hamilton's "rapid transit" is still undefined while Mississauga's rapid transit, which they started planning later than Hamilton, is already clearly defined as LRT and is enjoying priority attention from the Province: Mississauga's political leaders, and especially Mayor Hazel McCallion, have been champions for the plan.

McCallion has passionately explained and promoted LRT, engaging with her constituents. She has engaged the Province actively and consistently, working both formal and informal channels to put pressure on Queen's Park and make sure the project stays on the radar. She has demanded a fair funding arrangement. She has pushed back against PC leader Tim Hudak's threat to cancel LRT investments outside Toronto in favour of highways

Meanwhile, our Mayor has done the opposite of McCallion at every stage. He has debated against residents and organizations that support LRT. He has gone on record repeatedly with a series of false claims calculated to undermine the case for LRT. He has told the province and the public that LRT is "not a priority" for Hamilton. He has advocated a passive wait-and-see approach when challenged to engage the province.

The worst part is that Bratina know it will take a champion to advance LRT in Hamilton. He has repeatedly quoted the McMaster Institute for Transportation and Logistics study on LRT, which stresses the importance of "strong political leadership" as "a critical element in the success of any rapid transit and TOD project.

A political champion can help to realize success by marshaling resources, building coalitions, and resolving disputes. Coordinating institutions, streamlining processes, and minimizing red tape are seen as crucial in implementing TOD projects and are dependent on strong political leadership.

Bratina even promised to start championing LRT after the Council vote to submit Rapid Ready to the province. Needless to say, that didn't happen.

Passive wait-and-see is not leadership. Misinformation is not leadership. Pandering and concern-trolling is not leadership.

The good news is that Bratina has already said he will not seek re-election. That means we have an opportunity to elect a mayor who is prepared to fight for this opportunity.

LRT could still be a reality for Hamilton if our mayor and council has the understanding, vision and political courage to champion it, stick-handle it through opposition, and forcefully negotiate a good funding arrangement with the Province.

If this once-in-a-generation opportunity slips through our fingers (again!), we will have only ourselves to blame.

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 May 02, 2014 at 09:55:50

It's always easier for something to slip through your fingers when they are crossed.

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By jayrobb (registered) | Posted May 02, 2014 at 10:25:21

Yes, Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion has been an LRT champion. Also worth looking at how their citizens have voted.

The provincial ridings of Mississauga Streetsville, Mississauga East Cooksville, Mississauga South, Mississauga Brampton and Mississauga Erindale are all held by Liberal MPPs. The Hon. Charles Sousa, Minister of Finance, holds the Mississauga South riding.

The federal ridings of Mississauga East Cooksville, Mississauga South, Mississauga Brampton South and Mississauga Erindale are held by Conservative MPs.

What's the political uplift for the province and feds to invest in Hamilton's LRT? Just two of our seven provincial and federal ridings are held by the parties in power. And in the last provincial election, we voted out a Cabinet Minister who was a Hamilton advocate at Queen's Park.

Having local MPPs and MPs who have the ear of the Premier and Prime Minister and advocating on Hamilton's behalf would make City Council's job that much easier.

Will be interesting to see how we vote in the next provincial and federal elections.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted May 02, 2014 at 11:23:52 in reply to Comment 100804

Bit of a chicken and egg thing, no? What's the incentive for Hamilton to vote for the government when they've never given us a reason to think their attitude toward us would change if we had representatives in government? Look at two of our local provincial liberal candidates - basically campaigning on the notion that Hamilton doesn't deserve transit investment. Seriously, when was the last time any party at either level tried to buy our votes with promises of targeted investment? This is one Hamiltonian who would be happy to entertain any offers.

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By JayRobb (registered) | Posted May 02, 2014 at 14:31:23 in reply to Comment 100807

Maybe more involvement in riding associations might help?

Not about buying votes. About having allies and advocates in Caucus and Cabinet who have the ear of the Premier and Prime Minister.

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By Rallyup (anonymous) | Posted May 02, 2014 at 11:20:45

Like I've said time and again, we need to organize a pro-LRT rally. After all, in many ways this is a matter of social justice.

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By scrap (anonymous) | Posted May 02, 2014 at 12:10:35

Mr Robb, while people can have their own viewpoints, I found yours disconcerting.

What are you really advocating for?

In my view during an election we hear what we want to hear, endless promises, then once in power said party does what they want which is usually not what the people want or need.

Are you one of the enlightened ones?


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By JayRobb (registered) | Posted May 02, 2014 at 12:59:10 in reply to Comment 100811

You'd be hard pressed to find anyone who'd call me enlightened.

Just an observation on our neighbours to the east.

Having local MPPs and MPs who are in the caucus of the ruling parties can only help Hamilton City Council when it comes time to lobby for provincial and federal investments.

Suspect LRT will need funding from all three levels of government.

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By scrap (anonymous) | Posted May 02, 2014 at 13:19:26 in reply to Comment 100815

Mr Robb, thanks for the reply. I found your terminology the ruling party funny in a sense.

While the current topic is the LRT funding, we must also consider other funding issues as well. Poverty is an issue, as well as worker's right, yet all three of the major parties have had their hands in those piles, taking and throwing people into dire poverty.

My own experiences tell me there are some nasty people in this city who lack the balls to meet and talk about issues like mobbing which is indirect bullying. Should not those people and their organizations be exposed into the public realm?

Who are the good guys and are those who are thought to be the good guys somethingmuch worse who direct policy that goes against the people trying to be their own voice.

What is the point of the city having anti bullying policy when their own can engage in bad behavior will no penalty?

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By robb who? (anonymous) | Posted May 02, 2014 at 14:06:54

By JayRobb (registered) | Posted May 02, 2014 at 12:59:10 in reply to Comment 100811
'You'd be hard pressed to find anyone who'd call me enlightened.' Thats probably for sure, but find any time where in the Spec paper J Robb wrote about politics things when it mattered--like never, eh.?

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By MarkState (registered) - website | Posted May 03, 2014 at 11:53:12

Hi, We’re right next door here, in Toronto. Visited us lately?

We have a public transit service that is more than often inadequate to move passengers during rush hour peaks. We've been using street cars since 1885, and our idea of upgrading them to the future is installing slightly different LRT vehicles they have been using in European streetcar systems for the last forty years.

Automobiles can't use the roads like they used to on the former six-lane St. Clair Avenue and Spadina Avenues where a streetcar ROW (Right Of Way) has been installed in a mistaken attempt to get the cars off the road and force people to take rapid transit. Instead, the number of sustainable technology automobile owners continues to grow, and the result is traffic chaos on those two streets that now provide a one-lane narrowed access for traffic. Business owners along those streets report a 35-50 per cent drop in business since the streets were so affected, and literally dozens of businesses have closed. Don't get me wrong...traffic is slowed to a crawl behind any streetcar on any of our streets, but thsoe street have been purposely narrowed for LRT ROW routes.

Our traffic light system only helps to move traffic on our two one-way streets: Adelaide and Richmond, and as the exception to the rule, sometimes early morning going east on Bloor Street West, where lights are timed, but this is the one exception, not the rule. Whenever we have events, they are invariably held in the downtown core and result in an up-to-two-hour departure time for people parked at them due to inadequate traffic planning.

Hamilton is the envy of Torontonians. No streetcars, (Yes, we know you sold all yours to us in the late 40's and early 50's and have been laughing at us ever since.) One-Way street systems that actually allow you to go from one end of the city to the other non-stop, (How cool is that!) A bus service that actually works, especially in the west end where four or five different destinations are serviced along the Main Street route. I have often visited Hamilton and never seen a sardine-crowded bus on those lines. By contrast, we here in Toronto have a social media campaign with pictures devoted to our rapid transit overcrowding called #TTCsardines, and a group calling itself the TTC Riders Group have awarded Glen Murray the Min of Transp. with the first "Sardine Award".

Currently, Main Street West has four to five lanes of smoothly flowing traffic, where taxi drivers have sworn to me there is never a traffic jam, and great rapid transit service where I have personally witnessed zero overcrowding and great destination service.

Beware, Hammertonians! Those of you who are promoting an LRT are promoting potential traffic chaos. The only people who will benefit by its installation are Mafia-controlled construction companies.

If you really want to get into the twenty-first century of rapid transit, look toward the PERT vehicular solution. Personal Electric Rapid Transit will get anyone there faster and cheaper than mass transit, and satellite control on surround-aware vehicles makes accidents almost impossible.

But if you want to go Neanderthal by adding your LRT system, you can save money by uncovering the rails that have been buried beneath the surface of the Main and King Streets (envied by Torontonians) for the past 70 years by city fathers who were much wiser than apparently the current crop of media-driven Mafia-rewarding bunch you have pushing for an LRT system today.

Comment edited by MarkState on 2014-05-03 12:03:04

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By GoBoy (anonymous) | Posted May 09, 2014 at 16:16:52

It is an insult to every taxpayer to have Mr. Ferguson and his ilk championing LRT when Additional Busses are so far superior and can quickly be changed to suit changing demographics.
You are going to believe that the Lieberals will not raise taxes for LRT? Really?

Mr. Ferguson should be retired from any council discussions re traffic anywhere of any type.

The Billions referenced for any transit system should only be assigned after a clear public Vote.

Bus or Rail or streamline present traffic.

Many people do not realize that either Bus or Rail will not relieve Personal Vehicles. We need better roads, with Reasonable Speed limits, not the choking ones we have today.


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