Special Report: Light Rail

Anti-LRT Oped Based Entirely on a False Premise - Updated

The author's whole argument is that Hamiltonians will see their taxes go up to fund LRT under the Metrolinx Investment Strategy - but that strategy was rejected from the approved 2014 Ontario budget.

By Ryan McGreal
Published October 01, 2014

this article has been updated

It's a recurring theme in the great light rail transit (LRT) debate: the Spectator publishes pro- and anti-LRT opinion pieces in a laudable effort to present a balanced variety of opinions, but the anti-LRT pieces are inevitably filled with misinformation, incorrect fact claims and bad analysis.

Today's dispatch from the anti-LRT nonsense files is an op-ed by Michael Hilson titled "LRT will be a costly endeavour". Let's dive in:

I'm not sure how the idea of an Eastgate to McMaster Light Rail Transit (LRT) line has maintained its impressive traction without being seriously analyzed

It has been seriously analyzed: by the City, by the Province, by McMaster Institute of Transportation and Logistics and by independent transportation and planning researchers.

The Metrolinx report to the province dated May 27, 2013, entitled "Investing In Our Region,"

Let's stop right here. This is the crux of the entire op-ed, and it's just plain wrong.

The Ontario Government rejected the Metrolinx Investment Strategy in its 2014 budget, which formed the basis of the Liberal Party's sucessful re-election platform in June.

Just to be perfectly clear, the author's entire argument is that Hamiltonians will see their taxes go up under the Investment Strategy's funding tools - but the Investment Strategy is not being used to fund the next wave of Metrolinx transit projects across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA).

The 2014 budget, which the Ontario Government approved six weeks after winning re-election, allocates $15 billion over ten years to fund a set of capital projects that includes Hamilton's east-west rapid transit line.

After the Liberals rejected the Investment Strategy's funding tools, they settled on the following funding mechanism, as specified in the approved budget

Dedicated funds for public transit and transportation infrastructure would be supported by:

  • Dedicating proceeds from 7.5 cents of the existing provincial gasoline tax to public transit and transportation infrastructure priorities, starting in 2014–15. This would be over and above the existing gas tax funding provided to municipalities, with no increase to the tax rate from its current level.

  • Dedicating proceeds from the following proposed targeted revenue measures to public transit, transportation infrastructure and other priority projects:

    • Restricting large corporations from claiming the small business deduction;
    • Restricting the fuel tax exemption for road-building machines; and
    • Phasing in an increase of four cents per litre to the tax rate on aviation fuel over four years.
  • Repurposing revenues from the existing HST charged on the current provincial taxes on gasoline and road diesel across the province towards public transit, transportation infrastructure and other key infrastructure priorities.

The dedicated funds would also be supplemented by:

  • Leveraging provincial borrowing, when needed, and including proceeds from green bonds to help finance transit and other environmentally friendly infrastructure projects across the province.

  • Allocating net revenue gains from certain asset sales through the proposed Trillium Trust, a special fund to be dedicated to Ontario’s key infrastructure.

  • Working with the federal government to secure federal funding through the Building Canada Plan for key transportation-related projects throughout the province.

  • Dedicating net revenue gains from high-occupancy toll lanes when they become available.

These two dedicated funds would provide new and stable funding to support priority projects as they are constructed. Once the funds are established, the Province would track new spending on projects, ensuring transparency and accountability for all Ontarians. An online portal would report publicly on project funding and implementation progress.

This is really important to understand: as Ontario taxpayers, Hamilton residents will help to pay for the $15 billion in new transit projects across the GTHA.

If we reject full capital funding for Hamilton's LRT plan, the tax money we contribute to the Province will still go toward paying for that $15 billion in projects, only the money will go to fund rapid transit in Mississauga, Brampton, Markham, Scarborough and elsewhere.

I understand the importance of providing a variety of viewpoints on an issue as important as LRT, but as I've said before, the quality of the arguments against LRT just reinforces the fact that this is an extensively-researched project with a strong, evidence-based foundation of support.

(h/t to Craig Burley for a much-appreciated sanity check.)

Related:


Update: the October 3,2014 print edition of the Spectator includes a correction at the bottom of page A2:


Correction printed in the October 3,2014 Spectator, page A2

The text of the correction reads:

A guest opinion piece that appeared in the Comment page on Oct. 1 contained incorrect information. It said the Metrolinx report "Investing in Our Region" was the blueprint for how transit projects, including LRT for Hamilton, would be funded. In fact, that report was rejected by the province in favour of a different funding plan outlined in the budget.

As of this writing, the correction has not been added to the online version of the oped.


Update 2: the Spectator has removed the oped from their website. The URL now returns an HTTP 404 error.


Update 3: the Spectator has restored the oped to their website and added the text of the October 3 correction.

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 Starbuck (registered) | Posted October 01, 2014 at 10:55:53

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By ViennaCafe (registered) | Posted October 01, 2014 at 14:49:29 in reply to Comment 105057

So, to be clear, people afraid to cross one of the expressways through the city is the fault of the bus lane and not incredibly stupid and dangerous road design and urban planning. Starbuck must be a conservative.

Comment edited by ViennaCafe on 2014-10-01 14:49:41

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By AlHuizenga (registered) | Posted October 01, 2014 at 14:15:04 in reply to Comment 105057

You forgot that this post is about LRT funding. You pulled a Paul Calandra.

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By redmike (registered) | Posted October 01, 2014 at 11:09:27 in reply to Comment 105057

"I have customers who tried parking across the street and then risked their lives to cross the road and just said, 'we aren't coming back.'" people that cant navigate across a city street safely. sounds about right for starbuck and his crowd.

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By redmike (registered) | Posted October 01, 2014 at 11:07:25 in reply to Comment 105057

"apparently" is correct word. some business grow with change, some die. thats capitalism. if your customers literally wont cross the street to visit, you have bigger probs then the bus lane. too bad so sad.

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By Starbuck (registered) | Posted October 01, 2014 at 11:10:33 in reply to Comment 105060

Ouch! Good luck with that attitude. lol

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted October 01, 2014 at 14:16:23 in reply to Comment 105062

Ouch indeed; the truth hurts. That said, King Street is a valuable business corridor and the impact of the bus on foot traffic should be studied. I am sure that the loss of parking on that strip has had an impact; as pointed out elsewhere on RTH, that's an argument for changing the character of the street away from an urban expressway.

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By Starbuck (registered) | Posted October 01, 2014 at 14:25:04 in reply to Comment 105077

I meant "ouch" at the total lack of sympathy for the business's losing customers, due to the bus only lane.

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By redmike (registered) | Posted October 01, 2014 at 22:05:04 in reply to Comment 105079

the business's that depend largely on customers putting their hazards on and doing dash in and dash out retailing will suffer. business's that depend largely on customers that need to be able to keep their vehicles in line of site at all times while they shop will suffer. some will close up, then new business's will take their place. just like there are many, many cell phone stores and far fewer hoola hoop stores. times change grampa, get with the program.

Comment edited by redmike on 2014-10-01 22:05:29

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By redmike (registered) | Posted October 01, 2014 at 22:30:53 in reply to Comment 105118

in addition, i reserve my sympathy for living things. a business is not a living thing.

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted October 01, 2014 at 15:12:06 in reply to Comment 105079

And I said "ouch indeed" because the truth hurts. I suppose we're all clear now? Good.

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By GoodCoffee (anonymous) | Posted October 01, 2014 at 11:05:11 in reply to Comment 105057


"I have customers who tried parking across the street and then risked their lives to cross the road and just said, 'we aren't coming back.'"

If the draw of this business is so tenuous that having to park a few more meters away ruins it then perhaps the problem is not the bus lanes but the business? Maybe there are things the business owner could've done to make his business more attractive. Instead he reached for a convenient excuse and found a paper which aligns with his ideology to spout nonsense.

Businesses fail all of the time, unfortunately. To blame the bus lane absurd.

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted October 01, 2014 at 10:59:36

Thanks Ryan. Comprehensively refuted.

What bothers me about this is not so much (as I tweeted quickly after doing the few minutes of debunking work) that the Spec feels free to print outright falsehoods in the guise of op-ed pieces without bothering to fact-check. That's the newspaper biz now.

What really bothers me is the author, who is a CA and CPA practising in Ontario and can be presumed to have read the Budget in fairly careful detail (no more than ten weeks ago) can instead dig out recommendations from an old Metrolinx report which has been fully rejected twice (once by the Transit Investment Strategy Advisory Panel last December, then again by the government in the Budget) and present it as government tax policy. That's an outrageous fraud on the public.

It's a shame. That's all. It's a darned shame.

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By Starbuck (registered) | Posted October 01, 2014 at 14:34:55 in reply to Comment 105058

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By z jones (registered) | Posted October 01, 2014 at 16:13:26 in reply to Comment 105082

Obvious troll is obvious. Move along folks, feeding time is over.

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted October 01, 2014 at 15:15:01 in reply to Comment 105082

I am a tax lawyer with twelve years' experience in corporate tax planning, tax policy advisory work, tax dispute resolution and the like. I assure you, I can read a goddamned budget and what's more, I assure you that Michael Hilson can too.

He just chose not to present the actual policy.

(Oh, and, regarding the recent Mac LRT study: the author spoke very well for himself. I did a substantial analysis of the study and found little to criticize. It was not presented particularly well in Andrew Dreschel's column, but that's not the author's fault.)

Comment edited by Tybalt on 2014-10-01 15:19:17

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By IanReynolds (registered) | Posted October 01, 2014 at 15:05:16 in reply to Comment 105082

How can you say the RTH opinions aren't based on fact when they link to the very budget they cite, which comes from a government website? That's about as concrete a fact as one can get.

It's not about who's smarter, which also isn't what Tybalt said, by the way. It's about telling the truth. Hilson's report doesn't mean he's stupid. It means he's a liar, because he's using false information to prove his point.

No one's saying RTH is smarter than a CPA, because every CPA is the smartest!!!

It should be quite obvious, though, that only one side is telling the truth.

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By Starbuck (registered) | Posted October 01, 2014 at 15:14:48 in reply to Comment 105089

So Hilson's lying then?

By the way, the Ontario budget....

http://www.fin.gov.on.ca/en/budget/ontar...

Ontario’s new plan for dedicated funds for public transit, transportation infrastructure, and other priority infrastructure projects is based on the following principles:

The two new dedicated funds should be supported by dedicated sources of revenue;
New dedicated revenue sources should not increase taxes on low- to middle-income individuals;
Allocating dedicated funds proceeds between the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) and the rest of the province should be done in a way that is fair, accountable and transparent;
Dedicated funds proceeds should be substantially applied to specific transportation and other critical infrastructure projects; and
The two new dedicated funds should be transparent and managed with strong accountability mechanisms.

The government will not increase the tax on gasoline, the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST), education property taxes, or personal income taxes on low- to middle-income individuals.

Two new dedicated funds would be created to support infrastructure projects that are essential to Ontario’s immediate and long-term economic growth and job creation:

The Province would dedicate a new fund to help address congestion in the GTHA; and
New dedicated funding would also be set aside to invest in roads, bridges, public transit and other critical infrastructure outside the GTHA.

As the proceeds for these new dedicated funds would be raised province-wide, it is proposed that they be allocated to the GTHA and the rest of the province using census data from Statistics Canada. By allocating the proceeds to the two funds by population, the Province would ensure that the allocation is fair, accountable and transparent.

Comment edited by Starbuck on 2014-10-01 15:18:45

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted October 01, 2014 at 15:17:15 in reply to Comment 105092

"So Hilson's lying then?"

I dunno, you read his article and then read the provincial budget (which is in no way "vague") and you figure out how he came to present what he did as government tax policy.

I have no idea why he wrote it that way.

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By RobF (registered) | Posted October 01, 2014 at 11:22:42

Can someone help me. How does Hilson arrive at his projected "tax-increases" (i.e. the per capita or per family dollar figures)? I've seen these numbers bandied about before. Are they the result of a straightforward spreading of the total cost of proposed capital spending on Metrolinx's Big Move across the existing population/tax-base or do they account for the anticipated economic benefits and efficiencies generated by investment in transportation improvements? How would improvements to our tax base from LRT, from redevelopment and infilling, factor into the distribution of costs?

Stepping back from the specifics, this looks to me like a new permutation of the anti-LRT position as well. Hilson's argument is effectively questioning whether we should be included in the Big Move. He's laying the groundwork for an entirely more problematic political position -- one that would hive us off from the GTHA and neutralize the claim that if we don't build LRT someone else will get our slice of the Metrolinx spending pie.

Comment edited by RobF on 2014-10-01 11:28:54

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted October 01, 2014 at 14:13:08 in reply to Comment 105064

Hilson is using a long-rejected proposal from Metrolinx as the basis. The provincial government has elected to use an entirely different funding model.

He's also ignored the fact that this is indeed the capital spending proposal that the city wants. All this is in the Rapid Ready report.

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By RobF (registered) | Posted October 01, 2014 at 15:44:07 in reply to Comment 105075

Hilson is using a long-rejected proposal from Metrolinx as the basis. The provincial government has elected to use an entirely different funding model.

I was aware of the source. I hadn't realized he simply took their estimates. Rapid Ready is clear about LRT, but the city appears to be split. My question was directed at determining whether these "cost" figures incorporate benefits? Aside from being a transit improvement, LRT is expected to have additional economic benefits. I'm tired of the anti-LRT crowd pointing only to costs and never addressing revenue positive aspects of the investment, not to mention reduced operating costs.

Of course, I read Hilson's piece as setting up an entirely different debate. He seems to want to take us out of the GTHA, so that we could spend the money entirely differently ... like on Waterfront Development, Aerotropolis, or the Mid-Pen highway (take your pick). We need to start asking what lies behind door number 2. Whose interests in this town align with not to steering development/intensification toward the B-Line corridor as a whole?

Comment edited by RobF on 2014-10-01 15:47:04

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By jeffzuk (registered) | Posted October 01, 2014 at 12:08:44

If we reject full capital funding for Hamilton's LRT plan, the tax money we contribute to the Province will still go toward paying for that $15 billion in projects, only the money will go to fund rapid transit in Mississauga, Brampton, Markham, Scarborough and elsewhere.

Is it really LRT or nothing for Hamilton?

Thanks for the quick rebuttal. Glad there are such robust new-media options in Hamilton when Old Media disappoints.

Comment edited by jeff on 2014-10-01 12:09:32

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted October 01, 2014 at 12:24:25 in reply to Comment 105065

No, we could get BRT. For the city of Hamilton, BRT offers no advantages over LRT - the operating costs aren't better or anything. And it has substantial disadvantages in that it doesn't draw investment and riders as well as LRT.

Now, the up-front capital cost for BRT is substantially lower, so the province may want to give Hamilton BRT, since the capital costs are the province's problems. But there is absolutely zero reason that any Hamiltonian should be giving them that out. "Yes, you should cheap-out on Hamilton unlike every other major city in the province". Why would we do that to ourselves?

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted October 01, 2014 at 14:41:41

Budget enthusiasts might also find value in the legislative detail contained in Minister Sousa's budget omnibus:

Bill 14, Building Opportunity and Securing Our Future Act (Budget Measures), 2014

ontla.on.ca/web/bills/bills_detail.do?locale=en&Intranet=&BillID=3006

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By Memory (anonymous) | Posted October 01, 2014 at 22:10:44

Why are you trying to analyze Michael Hilson's op ed piece. All you have to remember is that he is the same Michael Hilson that was in collaboration with Brad and his group who fought the Taro landfill decades ago. They were in partnership then and I'm sure are collaborating now on the anti LRT message.

The problem is that institutional memory is gone and the anti's are winning the debate. Will Brad win the election? perhaps and that would be a shame.

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By redmike (registered) | Posted October 01, 2014 at 22:34:05 in reply to Comment 105119

i liked it when people where fighting the taro landfill. was brad clark one of them? i may have to develop a little respect for brad clark if that was the case. no votes mind you.

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By Memory (anonymous) | Posted October 02, 2014 at 10:04:54

Brad was one of them. Raised his profile, got elected and then when he was in cabinet and had opportunity to do something about the provincially approved landfill, sat on his hands.

Opportunism at its best. In fact he was quoted as saying, "I was an activist, but then grew up"

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted October 02, 2014 at 11:15:22 in reply to Comment 105144

...and became a political inactivist.

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By redmike (registered) | Posted October 02, 2014 at 10:44:36 in reply to Comment 105144

thank you for the info. that is what i got from some searching. he was always a populist/opportunist.

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted October 03, 2014 at 11:51:29

The Spec have, via their Corrections, corrected the error. Here's a photo.

Comment edited by Tybalt on 2014-10-03 11:51:42

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted October 03, 2014 at 11:58:54 in reply to Comment 105195

That's the photo I took this morning from my newspaper, embedded in this article in an update.

The Spec offered me the opportunity to write a rebuttal letter, but I responded that I would prefer to see a printed correction. A letter is just one opinion vs. another, whereas a correction makes it clear that the oped was factually wrong.

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