Special Report: Light Rail

Ontario Liberals Confirm 100 Percent Capital Funding for 'Rapid Transit', Whatever That Means

The Ontario Liberals are promising 100% capital funding for "rapid transit" in Hamilton but won't confirm whether "rapid transit" means light rail transit.

By Ryan McGreal
Published May 07, 2014

Glen Murray, the Ontario Liberal candidate for Toronto Centre and recently Transport Minister, caught Hamilton's attention yesterday with a series of tweets committing a Liberal government to 100 percent capital funding for "rapid transit" in Hamilton.

Glen Murray speaking at a February 28, 2014 Hamilton Chamber of Commerce luncheon (Image Credit: Richard Allen)
Glen Murray speaking at a February 28, 2014 Hamilton Chamber of Commerce luncheon (Image Credit: Richard Allen)

However, he has not responded to multiple requests to clarify whether "rapid transit" means light rail transit (LRT) or bus rapid transit (BRT). Last week, the Liberal Government released a 2014 Ontario Budget that specified "LRT" for Mississauga-Hurontario and "bus rapid transit" for Dundas Street but just "rapid transit" for Hamilton.

On the same day the budget was released, Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath announced that her party would vote against it and Premier Kathleen Wynne asked Lieutenant Governor David Onley to dissolve the legislature and call an election on Thursday, June 12.

Murray's statements, posted yesterday on Twitter, come in the early days of a provincial election campaign.

Murray also committed to providing all-day two-way GO Train service running every 15 minutes to the new GO station on James Street North, which is currently under construction.

He referenced his recent speech at a Hamilton Chamber of Commerce luncheon, in which he stopped just short of saying Hamilton would be crazy not to commit to LRT, saying it would be inappropriate to tell Hamilton what to choose between LRT and BRT.

However, the Hamilton City Council has already chosen LRT.

Council Chose LRT

In February 2013, the City submitted its comprehensive Rapid Ready transit plan to the province. The centrepiece of the plan is an east-west LRT line running from Eastgate Square to McMaster University combined with improved bus service and, in the longer term, a north-south rapid transit line running on James Street and Upper James from the waterfront to the airport.

The Rapid Ready plan is based on the assumption of full capital funding for the LRT line, which was the basis on which Metrolinx was developed to coordinate Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) regional transit projects.

The Province promised to fund rapid transit in Hamilton in June 2007, when they released the original MoveOntario 2020 plan.

The Ontario Liberals reiterated that promise in a pre-election press release that September, when they more specifically warned that "two light rail lines across Hamilton" would be "at risk" if the Progressive Conservatives won the election.

Ever since the 2011 Provincial election, Liberal candidates in Hamilton ridings hedged their words when asked whether they would honour the commitment to fund LRT, noting the Liberals would "work with the city to move this project forward" once the Rapid Ready report was complete.

Five years in the making, that report was unanimously approved by Council in Februay 2013 and submitted to the Province, but Premier Kathleen Wynne surprised Hamilton LRT advocates this past February when she indicated she did not know whether Hamilton has chosen BRT or LRT.

Political Football

Now LRT has become a political football being kicked around both the current Provincial election and the upcoming Municipal election.

This past April, before the Ontario Budget was released, a spokesperson for Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath confirmed that Horwath "reaffirmed her longstanding support for a LRT for Hamilton." (Horwath is the MPP for Hamilton-Centre.) The NDP have not yet released a platform outlining a timeline or funding arrangement.

The Progressive Conservative Party, in contrast, opposes LRT in Hamilton. Instead, they would spend $1.5 billion on a mid-peninsula highway running from Fort Erie across Hwy 403 in Hamilton to connect with Hwy 401 or 407 noth of Burlington.

Locally, Councillor Brad Clark (former Progressive Conservative Transport Minister under Mike Harris) voted to support LRT throughout the planning process from 2008 to 2013. Now, as a Mayoral candidate, Clark opposes LRT, saying he is "reading the tea leaves" and believes the Province will only fund BRT.

Councillor Brian McHattie, also a mayoral candidate but an LRT supporter, wants the Province to clarify what it means by "rapid transit". He is also calling for the City to increase its public engagement on LRT after the consultation period ended in 2011. (Disclosure: I have done some volunteering with McHattie's campaign.)

Former mayor and mayoral candidate Fred Eisenberger also supports LRT but is calling for the city to "hit the reset button" on rapid transit planning and establish a citizens' forum made up of residents from across the city to evaluate the evidence and compare options.

The city already established a rapid transit citizens' advisory committee (RTCAC) with 23 residents from across the city, which held meetings from September 2010 through late 2011 and made recommendations as part of the rapid transit planning process.

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 VoteLRT (anonymous) | Posted May 07, 2014 at 13:02:53

Any provincial party that promises to fully fund Hamilton LRT has my vote. Any mayoral canditate that promises to champion LRT has my vote (so far its Brian McHattie).

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By CaptainKirk (anonymous) | Posted October 21, 2014 at 09:01:06 in reply to Comment 101098

It's come to that for me as well. I'm convinced that LRT is the single best way to positively transform our city.

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By No. (anonymous) | Posted May 10, 2014 at 23:26:20 in reply to Comment 101098

Nope.

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By Ditto (anonymous) | Posted May 08, 2014 at 13:47:12 in reply to Comment 101098

Ditto.

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By RT means... (anonymous) | Posted May 07, 2014 at 13:06:25

Maybe, and perhaps this is being foolishly optimistic, RT means both LRT and BRT, LRT for B-line, BRT for A-line???

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted May 07, 2014 at 14:13:18 in reply to Comment 101099

If that's what they planned, that's what they'd say. When a politician is intentionally vague about something, it's because they're giving you the worse option, otherwise they'd brag and draw votes by touting the better one specifically.

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By CaptainKirk (anonymous) | Posted May 08, 2014 at 08:10:15 in reply to Comment 101108

Timing is everything. If that's what they've planned, then they could announce it closer to election day. I'm sure you noticed the 100% announcement came after the election was called.

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By scrap (anonymous) | Posted May 07, 2014 at 13:16:10

So if the liberals aren't elected does the funding still hold?

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted May 07, 2014 at 13:56:13 in reply to Comment 101100

That would depend on who is elected. The NDP have said they support Hamilton's LRT, while the PCs have said they oppose it.

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted May 07, 2014 at 13:50:55

70 minutes via high-speed rail from London to Toronto, or 6o from Hamilton to Toronto via an electrified Lakeshore line?

cbc.ca/news/canada/kitchener-waterloo/liberals-to-study-71-minute-toronto-kitchener-london-rail-trip-1.2627252

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By Jonathan Dalton (registered) | Posted May 07, 2014 at 13:52:10

Any council decision to revisit or change plans on rapid transit should be postponed until after the provincial election. To debate it now is just a waste of time.

The only reason council should reconsider their position is if a change of government alters the level of funding. If the PC's win we will get nothing, meaning start from scratch and see what the city can afford on its own.

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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted May 07, 2014 at 13:59:32 in reply to Comment 101102

If the business case is solid, you could argue that 50 years of debt financing makes even a $800m project feasible as a go-alone.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted May 07, 2014 at 14:02:09 in reply to Comment 101104

There's also the possibility of federal funding. Not that likely with the current federal government but there's a good chance there will be a change of hands in 2015.

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By Steve (registered) | Posted May 07, 2014 at 15:16:23 in reply to Comment 101105

Ryan, If you are right about the change of hands, then Hamilton better swing back to being a Liberal city and vote a few into Parliament.

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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted May 07, 2014 at 14:07:41 in reply to Comment 101105

If we did it in governmental thirds a la K-W, it's easier still.

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By RobF (registered) | Posted May 07, 2014 at 14:18:42

Easy to promise transit goodies ... I can list off several iterations of this for the Toronto area since the 1970s. Anyone remember GO-Urban or Network 2011? I'll believe the minister when the various promises are actually built and operational. Until then they are just promises. We still don't have anything near consensus on how to fund Metrolinx sustainably ... maybe that should be an election issue. Of course, that would require the Liberals or NDP to explain where the money will come from (I don't think the Tories are particularly interested in "the Big Move", so i can't see them engaging in a productive discussion about transit funding).

Comment edited by RobF on 2014-05-07 14:26:23

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By Hamilton 1 (anonymous) | Posted May 07, 2014 at 15:33:44

Here is an idea. 100% funded by the users! if its going to be the be all and end all it will pay for itself in no time!

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By RobF (registered) | Posted May 07, 2014 at 20:07:28 in reply to Comment 101116

I'm with Jason. If you think everything should be 100% funded by end users, then apply that to across the board and see how far that gets you, especially when things are cross subsidized or the subsidies are hidden.

Also you might want to consider that it is more cost effective to provide mass transit for people who could switch out of cars then build extra road capacity (remaining motorists benefit from the modal shift too, btw).

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By Hamilton 1 (anonymous) | Posted May 08, 2014 at 11:27:18 in reply to Comment 101126

good the 75% of my income that goes to taxes income, sales and property will pay for all I need with lots left over!

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By RobF (registered) | Posted May 09, 2014 at 20:38:40 in reply to Comment 101144

75%? You pay a lot of tax. Putting aside your made up number do you really think you get nothing in return. No water, sewage, roads, schools, healthcare, nothing ... Vote Hudak. Obviously he's your man.

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 07, 2014 at 16:09:38 in reply to Comment 101116

sounds great. And to be consistent with your idea let's add tolls to all freeways so users can have the privilege of also paying 100% there too.

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By following that logic... (anonymous) | Posted May 10, 2014 at 23:29:30 in reply to Comment 101118

So following your logic, we should implement a policy where only the services you use are the ones you pay for!

Please, implement that. I am 100% serious.

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By Hamilton 1 (anonymous) | Posted May 08, 2014 at 11:30:09 in reply to Comment 101118

taxes on gas and autos including licences do pay 100% for the roads, plus for a great deal more

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted May 08, 2014 at 11:50:12 in reply to Comment 101145

That is incorrect. The total revenue collected from drivers (fees, taxes,tolls, tickets, etc.) falls billions of dollars short of the total cost to build and maintain our road network - and that does not include the massive negative externalities of air pollution, collisions, injuries, hospitalizations and deaths.

It is an incontrovertible fact that driving is a heavily subsidized activity. Pretending it is not does your cause no favours.

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By Hamilton1 (anonymous) | Posted May 08, 2014 at 15:08:49 in reply to Comment 101146

I have no cause. I live in the real world. the money spend on roads is a fraction of the amount collected in taxes on driving/transportation! if you have real proof please provide it !

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted May 08, 2014 at 16:11:48 in reply to Comment 101154

This has come up many times on this site. Here once again is a link to a relevant Transport Canada Study:

http://www.tc.gc.ca/media/documents/poli...

This study found that the annual total financial costs of the road system in Canada are $16.5 to $25.8 billion, while annual revenues from fuel taxes and fees at the federal and provincial levels were only $12.8 billion, i.e. a shortfall of between $3.7 and $13 billion per year.

And it only includes the direct costs of driving: building and maintaining roads and policing, not indirect costs like injuries, deaths, pollution etc.

It includes every conceivable source of revenue associated with roads and motorists: traffic fines, lot levies (development charges imposed by municipalities), special assessments, parking charges, building prices in addition to taxes, excise tax on fuel and license fees.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2014-05-08 16:14:48

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By Hamilton1 (anonymous) | Posted May 09, 2014 at 08:44:35 in reply to Comment 101156

the report has a few major flaws to support the argument that roads(for travel) are heavily subsidized by other taxes.
1. policing costs are added.
2. figures are all estimated.
3. the cost of building roads includes all the infrastructure underneath. water mains, fire hydrants, sewers, storm drains. also includes the costs of signage, sidewalks.
4. pedestrians and cyclists use the road as well.
5. tax and fees only include gas taxes and licensing fees, not the HST charged on all fuels and supplies, repair parts and labour,the purchase and repurchase price of vehicles.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted May 08, 2014 at 16:08:58 in reply to Comment 101154

https://raisethehammer.org/blog/2171/for...

specifically,

http://www.tc.gc.ca/media/documents/poli...

Either way, in spite of the high gas taxes we pay (and most other vehicle revenues are penny-ante next to gas taxes) you have to consider how expensive it must be to maintain all those lanes of roadway. The Red Hill cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build, and that's one small chunk of this city's massive roadway. I mean look at it - thousands of kilometers deeply-dug flat landscaping and gravel with meticulously poured and leveled asphalt on top... contructed to take daily abuse from multi-axle heavy freight trucks that physically compress the asphalt as they roll over and make cracks that allow water in (which, in turn, freezes and makes the asphalt erupt into pot-holes). Look at how much manpower and hardware roadwork involves. How long things like the 403 bridges and the Queen Street Hill take with constant workers milling about. Did you think those guys worked for free?

Roads are expensive. Just because the city doesn't send you a bill itemizing your yearly contribution to the roadway doesn't mean they're cheap.

When Mr. Hudak talks about gutting the Metrolinx transit plans in favour of building things like the mid-pen, he's not actually talking about saving any money, just spending it on different things. I actually might have a shred of respect for him otherwise.

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By Hamilton1 (anonymous) | Posted May 09, 2014 at 08:53:38 in reply to Comment 101155

do you think car drives only pay car taxes and no other. get your head out of the sand, drivers also pay sales tax, income tax, government fees,911 charges etc. so if you add it up car/truck drives are not subsidized. however every public transit user IS HEAVELY subsidized!

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By Shh... (anonymous) | Posted May 10, 2014 at 23:30:44 in reply to Comment 101161

Shh. Don't confuse them with the facts, their minds are made up!

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted May 09, 2014 at 09:30:54 in reply to Comment 101161

Drivers are not a type of human being or a class of citizen: they are residents just like everyone else! It is the activity of driving we are talking about, not "drivers" as people.

The question is about costs and revenues specifically associated with driving (not drivers as people). This does not include general revenues like property tax or HST that are paid on all property or all goods and services and are part of general revenue.

This has been discussed ad nauseam on this site each time someone naively suggests that the cost of driving is fully subsidized by specific fees and taxes paid by drivers.

Go back and search the site ... all your arguments have been addressed before.

Transit users pay between 50% and 70% of the cost of the service directly as fares (comparable to drivers) and, by your argument, they pay everything because they already pay the property taxes that fund the remainder.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted May 07, 2014 at 16:44:46 in reply to Comment 101118

It's remarkable how many arguments against LRT could have just as easily applied to the Red Hill or the Linc.

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 07, 2014 at 22:36:17 in reply to Comment 101120

also remarkable how all the people who praised Red Hill like it was Hamilton's saviour are opponents of LRT. I have a feeling all of their fiscal responsibility and need for decades and decades of repetitive studies won't be mentioned if a new highway to Wellandport comes on the table.

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By Are you anti-RHVP? (anonymous) | Posted May 10, 2014 at 23:32:14 in reply to Comment 101129

Jason, are you anti-RHVP? Are you not happy that the amount of trucks moved out of the core and onto the ring road we have set up now is not helping your precious walkability and complete streets myth?

New lows, new lows...

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By Teej (anonymous) | Posted May 07, 2014 at 21:00:23

Seems pretty clear that the liberals have been running interference behind the scenes for a while now. Paying 100% gets them a big win, but they can only afford BRT. What to do? Get the local liberals to obscure the issue at the municipal level setting the stage for

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By Teej (anonymous) | Posted May 07, 2014 at 21:06:40

(Whoops)... the province saving money while giving Hamilton exactly what they asked for.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted May 07, 2014 at 22:36:20 in reply to Comment 101128

It does look suspiciously like that, doesn't it? Hopefully the Liberals' BRT FUD-spreaders on the mountain and east/Stoney Creek will be soundly defeated (and I'm a Lib).

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By Teej (anonymous) | Posted May 07, 2014 at 22:57:33 in reply to Comment 101130

...I was more referring to the current mayor and the former mayor.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted May 08, 2014 at 00:57:16 in reply to Comment 101131

Bratina for sure, but Eisenberger is a conservative, or was.

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By Why must you fight everyone? (anonymous) | Posted May 10, 2014 at 02:26:04

So lately, you've been twitter-fighting and email fighting:
- The current mayor
- This guy
- another councillor on the mountain

It just seems like you're really combative right now, Ryan. Why is that?

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