Special Report: Light Rail

Roundup of Pro-LRT Spectator Op-Eds

It's nice to see some coherent, evidence-based contributions to this crucial debate in the city's daily newspaper.

By Ryan McGreal
Published October 16, 2014

Over the past week, the Hamilton Spectator has published three op-eds that explore different aspects of the comprehensive case for Hamilton's light rail transit (LRT) plan.

On October 9, architect David Premi made the argument that $15 billion in rapid transit for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area is being funded out of the Provincial budget, and that if Hamilton turns down its share, we will end up helping to pay for rapid transit in other cities.

Hamilton has three basic choices:

1. We can tell the government we will accept no transit capital projects and let our share of investment go toward building projects in Mississauga and Toronto.

2. We can choose to ask for the implementation of a BRT (bus rapid transit) system, which is proven to have limited economic benefits and is more costly to operate. Hamilton drops off the priority list of projects and won't see funding for years to come, if ever.

3. We stick with the city and provincially-approved plan for LRT, which is proven to generate more economic activity and development, and is less expensive to operate.

All three options have exactly the same initial cost. Zero. As Hamiltonians, we pay the same new taxes, even if the entire $15 billion is spent in Mississauga, Toronto, Brampton and Markham. Which of these is the most logical choice in your opinion? Who in their right mind would decide to direct our tax dollars to the advancement of our neighbouring competitors?

Next, on October 14, Matt Thompson and Sam Kamminga wrote an op-ed on behalf of the Beasley Neighbourhood Association arguing that LRT provides better value to Hamilton property taxpayers.

It is the cost element, however, that keeps tripping us up as a city. We want to make clear that cost is as important to us urban-dwellers as it is to those in suburban and rural areas of the city. Downtown residents' property taxes also go to pay for roads and transit, so we expect our contributions to city coffers be used responsibly and equitably to address transportation issues all around our city.

That is why we fully support city council's oft-repeated support for LRT downtown, because it imposes the lowest burden on taxpayers by leveraging provincial money to completely build the east-west LRT line. It would also save money long-term by imposing one of the lowest costs possible on the operation of the line — each LRT vehicle replacing many buses, each with its own HSR operator.

The bus rapid transit scheme that outsiders keep trying to impose on downtown, in contrast, imposes smaller upfront capital costs to the province, but each additional bus on the road will mean additional operators with their own wages, benefits and pensions that will be borne by Hamilton taxpayers.

They addressed the bus rapid transit (BRT) smokescreen head-on:

Why are so many so-called fiscal conservatives so in thrall of the BRT option that will ultimately cost us more money to provide less service? Because it's a wedge issue they hope to exploit for their own electoral gain.

In today's issue, architect Graham McNally made a case for LRT based on its ability to attract and shape dense, cost-effective land use.

We need LRT to make the sites along the B-Line an active part of Hamilton's future growth.

The B-Line corridor can absorb growth through infill building and additional density. Existing roads can accommodate added cars, viable transit options exist and infrastructure for homes is already in place.

Growth in this corridor will support and create neighbourhoods scaled to be walkable, providing a housing format well suited to seniors, young families and a society that is putting less emphasis on car ownership and beginning to recognize and embrace the benefits of living in a walkable neighbourhood.

Development along the B-Line will benefit the entire city by increasing the tax revenue along the corridor and making better use of our urban land. Density in any city is not uniform and the taxes generated per building lot vary widely. When compared on a per hectare basis, however, higher density areas generate a significantly higher tax revenue per hectare than less dense areas, making more efficient use of the city's finite land area.

Installing LRT to encourage development along the B-Line will increase tax revenue without significantly increasing the cost to maintain our infrastructure. We will be building a city that can sustainably grow and meet our "Places to Grow" target.

After a string of anti-LRT op-eds based on false claims, selective memory and nonsensical arguments, it's nice to see some coherent, evidence-based contributions to this crucial debate in the city's daily newspaper.

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 Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted October 16, 2014 at 10:10:32

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By RobF (registered) | Posted October 16, 2014 at 12:34:25 in reply to Comment 105412

Short-term trend vs long-term reality ... we use more hydro-carbon-based fuel than can be replaced by the natural processes that produced them. And the related emissions are still a threat to our survival as a species. The responsible thing is to take action to wean us off reliance on fossil fuels in a socially just way.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted October 16, 2014 at 11:49:37 in reply to Comment 105412

Sorry Capitalist, but I'm not playing this game any more.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted October 16, 2014 at 11:10:09 in reply to Comment 105412

This is equivalent to asking what happened to global warming after it snows.

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted October 16, 2014 at 10:34:15 in reply to Comment 105412

Well I'm not Ryan but one thought I can contribute is that the clean energy revolution is starting to ramp up under its own momentum. Oil is down on weakening demand and speculation shifting elsewhere. One example of shifting sentiment.

It's amazing. There are enough thinking ambitious people on earth, that we may actually shift our energy supplies before the last drop of oil runs out. One possible reason peak oil may not come true is because we get it together in time! George Bush announced a hydrogen initiative in 2003 and here we are at market emergence of EVs and FCVs.

So who cares why oil is down, good things are happening and should be focused on. It will take a couple decades for the public automobile fleet to turn over. But growing population won't magically solve the problem of congestion regardless of automobile type, so correct design of urban centers that will undergo intensification is still imperative.

I have no idea how much of this bears on the current oil price correction, but this capitalist is looking toward a bright future.

Comment edited by mikeonthemountain on 2014-10-16 10:46:25

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By fake name (anonymous) | Posted October 16, 2014 at 10:23:46 in reply to Comment 105412

You have to be a heck of a demagogue to look at the trend-line for the last 20 years (inflation-adjusted or not) and think that this dip some kind of permanent improvement in prices. The inflation-adjusted cost of oil doubles once per 8 years or thereabouts and will continue to do so until the economy itself falters in response to high fuel costs.

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By Capital less (anonymous) | Posted October 16, 2014 at 10:29:44

Oil is always going to go up silly pants.....this is inevitable.

It is irrelevant if it has not gone up yet...it will.

Let me guess, your one of those people that thinks it does not matter if we use a diminishing resource that eventually only the rich will be able to afford.

It doesn't effect you right....who cares if the planet suffers from greed and pollution.

You will die before it effects you so who cares.

We only have one planet.

But we have enough solar/wind and water turbine resources to supply everyone with energy....and don't forget hydrogen.

You my friend are brain washed by big oil.

It is amazing how some people can't think past their tim hortons cup and pack of smokes.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted October 17, 2014 at 12:05:18

Where are all the people from this site predicting $200 per barrel oil?

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By argh (anonymous) | Posted October 20, 2014 at 16:53:53

Of course, all the anti-LRT Spec articles are going to be published this week, week before voting day! Manipulative basterds.

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