Special Report: Light Rail

Don't Let the City's Future be Decided Behind Closed Doors

The worst thing that could happen as a result of today's meeting between Mayor Bratina and the Transport Minister is that the Province ends up making the City an offer it can't accept.

By Ryan McGreal
Published July 25, 2014

This morning at 10:00 AM, Ontario Transport Minister Steven Del Duca and Minister Ted McMeekin (Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale) will visit Mayor Bob Bratina and members of the Governance Advisory Committee in a private meeting to discuss the city's Light Rail Transit (LRT) plan and whether the Promise will keep its commitment to full capital funding.

B-Line LRT route map (Source: City of Hamilton)
B-Line LRT route map (Source: City of Hamilton)

What should be a straightforward meeting to get funding for the LRT plan sorted out has already degenerated into a fiasco before it even starts.

Minister Del Duca, who stepped into the Transport portfolio after the recent provincial election, is already on record saying it's time to stop analyzing and discussing the regional transportation plan and "move forward with the actual delivering" of that plan, which includes "Hamilton Rapid Transit" as a top priority in the next wave of projects.

During the election campaign, both former Transport Minister Glen Murray and Premier Kathleen Wynne repeated the government's long-standing promise of 100 percent capital funding for Hamilton's plan - "the same way we worked with other municipalities."

But confusing the matter, Wynne went on to say that Hamilton needs to decide what it wants.

LRT Plan Already Submitted

The City's Rapid Ready report, approved unanimously by council in February 2013 and submitted to the Province, already specifies what Hamilton wants: LRT on the east-west B-Line between McMaster University and Eastgate Square as the first phase of a comprehensive rapid transit network.

Then McMeekin claimed Hamilton needs to do some detailed design work before a funding commitment is possible.

Again, the Rapid Ready plan already includes 30 percent engineering and detailed design on the line, a completed Class Environmental Assessment and a land use study to ensure that the planning framework supports new investment around the line.

B-Line LRT alignment through Gore Park (Source: City of Hamilton)
B-Line LRT alignment through Gore Park (Source: City of Hamilton)

We have done everything the Province asked us to do.

Close Partnership With Province

There is no reason for the Province not to know what Hamilton wants, and there is no reason for the Province not to have enough information to decide that this is a project worth funding.

The Rapid Ready LRT plan was developed over five years in which the City worked very closely with Metrolinx and the Province to develop a plan that aligns closely with the Regional Transportation Plan, The Big Move.

Development of the plan followed a comprehensive Rapid Transit Feasibility Study that found a very strong business case for LRT and strong public support among an unprecedented 1,884 residents the City consulted in every ward.

Rapid Transit Preference by Ward (Source: City of Hamilton)
Rapid Transit Preference by Ward (Source: City of Hamilton)

The B-Line Rapid Transit is specifically mentioned in the Ontario Budget that was just passed and is also included in the Next Wave list of Metrolinx projects.

Well-Researched, Broadly Supported

We are not trying to sell the Province on some aspirational, pie-in-the-sky transit scheme. The only reason we started developing our LRT plan in the first place is because the Province told us they wanted to build two light rail transit lines in Hamilton.

The Province even gave us $3 million to complete our required Class Environmental Assessment as part of our development plan.

This is the same Liberal government that announced the MoveOntario 2020 projects in the summer of 2007, threatened during the 2007 election that Hamilton would miss out on two LRT lines if the Progressive Conservatives won, included the B-Line as a top priority project in the Regional Transportation Plan, included the B-Line in the Next Wave list of top priority projects and included the B-Line in the budget that just triggered a general election in which the Liberals won a majority.

The Province has told us repeatedly that they have been very impressed with the unprecedented level of broad citizen engagement on LRT in Hamilton - much higher than in other jurisdictions where funding commitments and investments have already been made.

Persistent Undermining

So what is going on? We have a mayor who has persistently undermined and confused the city's LRT plan and manufactured controversy about it, despite having campaigned for election in 2010 on a pro-LRT platform.

Bratina triggered a crisis in 2011 when he told former Premier Dalton McGuinty that all-day GO service, not LRT, was the city's priority.

Bratina said publicly that LRT was "not a priority" and had City Manger Chris Murray unilaterally suspend the Rapid Transit office, throwing the project into disarray and costing both momentum and talented staff.

None of Bratina's actions since that time give us any reason to hope that his pattern of disruptive behaviour has changed.

That is why it's particularly inappropriate for this meeting to happen at all, let alone in secret. The very reason Bratina has a "governance advisory committee" is that Council grew tired of the Mayor misrepresenting their position in his communications with the Province.

Bratina's consistent signal that Hamilton doesn't really want LRT after all must be music to the ears of a Provincial government on the hook for billions of dollars in transportation investment against the backdrop of a large deficit and debt.

The worst thing that could happen as a result of this meeting is that the Province ends up making the City an offer it can't accept - a dysfunctional funding commitment designed for Council to turn it down and let Queen's Park off the hook.

Show Your Support

We can't let that happen. If you have not already done so, please make a public statement of support for LRT. You can read some of the already-posted statements for inspiration.

Just this week, with very short notice and in the middle of summer, nearly 200 people have already written personal messages of LRT support - not just clicking a petition button - and sent them to Council and the Province.

Your voice is important! Don't let the city's future be decided behind closed doors.

The Mayor's Office has announced a media scrum outside the 2nd floor south entrance of City Hall at 11:30 AM. I know it's really short notice, but I encourage as many people as possible to be in attendance.

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 fedup (anonymous) | Posted July 25, 2014 at 09:44:23

Thanks to raise the hammer for your leadership on this matter, it seems like we're living in a carnival funhouse the way most other media are talking about it, as though it's just a hand-ful of activists instead of a whole city project with years of work behind it!

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By anonymous (anonymous) | Posted July 25, 2014 at 09:44:46

Like all politicians Bratina is there to serve himself and his backers. So if he has been fighting what could have been a great legacy issue and is still roadblocking the LRT then it must be at the prodding of his moneyed backroom supporters. In this city that is normally our local developers. Is it because they cannot make money along the route? Will it divert residents to accumulate down there instead of the new sub-divisions out in the burbs?

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted July 25, 2014 at 10:15:09

Dear Sirs,

I am writing to you as my mayor, my councillor, my MPP and the Minister of Transportation regarding the Rapid Transit needs of our great city of Hamilton.

As identified in the Rapid Ready report, Hamilton has urgent transit needs in order to ease the city's transit crisis. The provincial Liberal government stepped up during this election campaign with a pledge to fund 100% of the capital costs of these needs.

I have seen and experienced these transit needs myself, daily. As:

  • a daily user of transit to commute from my home in Ainslie Wood to my office in downtown Hamilton;

  • a frequent (weekly+) user of interurban transit to do business all over the GTA; and

  • a downtown business owner keen to attract clients to my place of business,

I think B-Line LRT is the easiest, most cost-effective, and most efficient means of serving the city's transit needs and I personally am committed to using the system daily. The research is complete, the demands are both obvious and well-documented, and the need is proven.

Let's make the Big Move as a province, and let's move Rapid Readiness into Rapid Reality in our city. I hope to hear an announcement soon from the city and the province of a commitment to capital funding, and a commitment by the city to operate what will be (for the people moved, now and in the future) a major boon to the needs of all of us who drive, walk, and ride.

Thank you for your service to our community.

[One drop in a rainstorm, sure, but it's been a year since I wrote anything except a tweet or two towards McMeekin during the election. If y'all haven't said anything in a while, it's worth telling them again of your feelings, whatever they might be.]

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By notlloyd (registered) - website | Posted July 29, 2014 at 21:02:11

I agree with the title of this article. Let's have a plebiscite.

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By redmike (registered) | Posted August 01, 2014 at 09:03:39

plebiscite question: "as hamiltonians know, the ontario has instituted multiple province wide revenue generating tools for public transit. ontario taxpayers, hamilton included, are contributing billions of dollars in new tax revenue to the province and the province will now be building public transit systems in ontario, hamilton included. hamilton has the choice of: a gold standard lrt transit system, a bronze standar brt system, new buses and bus stops, or no improvements. which do you choose?" lrt wins.

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