Municipal Election 2014

Mayoral Candidates on Light Rail Transit

Raise the Hammer reviews the mayoral candidates' various positions on the City's Rapid Ready LRT plan.

By Ryan McGreal
Published October 21, 2014

Raise the Hammer sent a list of policy questions to all the candidates for Mayor and City Council. This week, Raise the Hammer reviews the mayoral candidates' positions on the policy issues in advance of the municipal election on Monday, October 27.

Background

In 2007, the Province announced a regional transportation plan that included two light rail transit (LRT) lines in Hamilton: one running east-west across the lower city and one running north-south between the waterfront and the airport. In 2008, Hamilton city staff undertook a rapid transit feasibility study that found a strong case for proceeding with an LRT plan combined with broad public support.

Rendering of proposed LRT in Hamilton
Rendering of proposed LRT in Hamilton

In February 2013, City Council approved a plan to build a 14 kilometre LRT line between McMaster University and Eastgate Square as part of a comprehensive improvement to city-wide transit. The plan, detailed in the Rapid Ready report, was submitted to the Province with a request for full capital funding.

Due to a combination of factors, including a Provincial government with a minority of seats in the Ontario Legislature that did not have an approved funding strategy and a Hamilton mayor who was busy undermining the LRT plan even though he voted for it, the Province punted on approving the plan and making a funding decision.

Much politicking ensued. In the June 2014 provincial election, the Liberal Party confirmed that it would provide 100 percent capital funding for "rapid transit" in Hamilton but would not specify whether they meant LRT or a bus rapid transit (BRT) system running articulated buses on dedicated lanes.

The Liberal candidates for Hamilton Mountain and Hamilton East-Stoney Creek campaigned on their preference for a cheaper alternative of adding express bus routes, which Liberal spokespeople said did not reflect Liberal policy. Both candidates lost to NDP candidates who support LRT.

Meanwhile, Premier Kathleen Wynne, then-Transportation Minister Glen Murray and local MPP Ted McMeekin were claiming they still needed to hear from Hamilton whether it wanted LRT or BRT - despite the fact that the City had submitted its LRT plan a year earlier.

Clear Choices Before Us

After the Liberals won a majority, newly-appointed Transport Minister Steven Del Duca held a private meeting with Hamilton Mayor Bob Bratina and a few members of council to discuss the city's rapid transit plan.

Transport Minister Steven Del Duca talking to reporters after his July 25, 2014 meeting with Mayor Bratina (RTH file photo)
Transport Minister Steven Del Duca talking to reporters after his July 25, 2014 meeting with Mayor Bratina (RTH file photo)

The meeting ended up without a definitive answer, but Del Duca at least acknowledged that the Province has received Hamilton's LRT plan and that the system that is approved "may very well be LRT."

It seems clear that the Province is waiting for the outcome of next Monday's municipal election before it decides how to proceed. In this regard, Hamilton voters have some very clear, distinct choices in who they elect as Hamilton's next mayor.

You can read all the candidates' responses to the question: Do you support the city's plan to build an east-west light rail transit (LRT) line with full capital funding from the Province?

Brian McHattie

Of the "big three" mayoral candidates, Brian McHattie was the only one who responded to the RTH policy questions. He reaffirmed his unambiguous support for the city's LRT plan:

Yes I support fully our LRT plan as described in the Rapid Ready Report.

McHattie has been an early and consistent champion for LRT. Earlier this year, in an attempt to work around Mayor Bratina's obstruction on the LRT file, McHattie wrote a letter to Premier Wynne reaffirming Council's support for LRT after Wynne was quoted saying she did not know Hamilton's position on rapid transit.

Brad Clark

Brad Clark has not responded to the RTH policy questions (or, indeed, to any requests for comment from RTH during the election), but in other public comments he has stated that he opposes the LRT plan, even though he voted consistently to support it as a City Councillor.

He claims that he changed his mind due to "new information" in a study by McMaster University geography PhD student Chris Higgins, but the study contains no information that Council did not already see, as Higgins himself has repeatedly clarified.

Clark also claims falsely that the east-west line does not have enough ridership to support LRT.

At 13,000 rides a day according to the 2010 HSR Operational Review, LRT on the B-Line would be in the middle of the pack for North American LRT systems on opening day, with huge potential for rapid increases in ridership given how overburdened the B-Line bus system is currently.

Instead of LRT, Clark wants to add more buses to the city's existing express bus service, which he persists in calling BRT even though it is not bus rapid transit by any reasonable definition.

Fred Eisenberger

Fred Eisenberger has not responded to the RTH policy question. However, he has stated that he personally supports the city's LRT plan but believes the city needs to "hit the reset button" by establishing a citizen panel to review the evidence and studies to date and make a recommendation. Eisenberger says he believes the panel will recommend approving the LRT plan.

The City already had a citizen panel - the Rapid Transit Citizen Advisory Committee - which reviewed the studies and made recommendations to staff on developing the LRT plan. It is not clear what benefit would come from repeating this process.

Other Candidates

Michael Baldasaro opposes the Rapid Ready plan. Instead, he wants to build an "LRT-loop" that runs north on Bay to the GO Station on James North and south on James to the GO Station on Hunter Street.

Crystal Lavigne opposes LRT. She supports increased bus service and "would like to install a gondola system extending from the mountain to the lower part of our city in the central/east end."

Michael A. Pattison supports the LRT plan conditionally while raising concerns about whether population density and ridership allow for LRT to run in a "sustainable or better yet profitable" manner.

We have not received responses from Ejaz Butt, Mike Clancy, Warrand Francis, Phil Ryerson or Ricky Tavares. Nick Iamonico has no contact information and so we were not able to send him the question.

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.

14 Comments

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By jimbob88 (registered) | Posted October 21, 2014 at 11:32:56

Hamilton LRT Assessment Claim is cause for Concern

Any conclusion that there would be a property assessment boom if a Hamilton LRT were built is problematic.

The Canadian Urban Institute (CUI) Study asserts that the financial benefits of a B line LRT [1] are in the order of $82 million over 15 years. However, what the Study did not make clear is that virtually all of this development near the proposed LRT line (if indeed it were to occur) would be at the expense of property development that would have occurred elsewhere in the City of Hamilton.

The report does not include clear statements, such as those included in the 2010 Hurontario LRT Study that: “Any (LRT related) development will, however, be a transfer of development that would have taken place elsewhere in Mississauga or Brampton.” [2]

The assessment increases that would have taken place in other areas of Hamilton should be deducted from the alleged LRT scenario assessment increases to arrive at a net estimated assessment increase. The net assessment increase is a small fraction of the amount that has been implied. The same is true for development charges and permit fees.

The CUI report asserts (on Page 35) that a 1.3 % annual growth rate would occur for Hamilton with LRT, and a lower 1.2% growth rate would occur without LRT. The suggestion that the mere presence of LRT would attract additional city-wide development investment was not referenced nor verified with experienced property developers as developers were apparently not included as participants in the Study. This unsupported assumption has the effect of inflating the estimated taxable assessment by $743 million in the “LRT scenario”.

LRT does not rewrite the laws of supply and demand. Property value increases that may occur near rapid transit stations are countered by slower property value increases for properties located farther away from transit stations - a probable net sum zero game.

Light Rail Transit is an important and effective means of public transportation in cities with populations in excess of 750,000 and with downtown core employment in excess of 50,000. Other complimentary demographic conditions are also needed to warrant the implementation of LRT. For smaller cities, LRT is not viable and LRT’s alleged benefits and business cases do not withstand close scrutiny. The risks are: onerous on-going operating deficits; business and residential tax increases; and conventional transit service reductions to support a system that is not the best transit solution for the municipality.

[1] Page 8, Hamilton B Line, Value Uplift and Capture Study June 2010, Canadian Urban Institute Report [2] Page 7, Appendix 11A Business Case Analysis, Hurontario Main Street Master Plan Report

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By ELL ARTEE (anonymous) | Posted October 21, 2014 at 13:46:29

Listened to Brian McHattie on Bill Kelly this morning with the other mayoral candidates and was gobsmacked when McHattie said that LRT isn't critical to Hamilton. I believe he said that if we don't get it, 'it isn't a big deal.' What???? Are you kidding me? Here is our champion being lackadaisical about the quintessential issue in this election? Now who do I vote for?

Brad? He is against it. Fred? He is for it, kind of? Brian? Who knows where he stands now?

I think I'll opt for Baldassaro.

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By CharlesBall (registered) | Posted October 21, 2014 at 14:44:41

McHattie is just being prudent. Most of the people in Hamilton are afraid of the long term consequences of LRT. If the LRT was on the ballot, it would lose depending on how the question was worded. McHattie is behind in the polls. So, he is distancing himself from the LRT issue. I am not fooled by that. McHattie is in favour of the LRT and if he is elected will push as much as he can for it.

So, voting for Baldassaro, who essentially opposes the LRT, would be a wasted vote.

LRT is only one issue. Vote or the Candidate who you think would do the best job.

I am more concerned that McHattie said he would never drive on the RHE - and then he did and said it wasn't so bad. If he wanted to represent all people, he should have been more open minded. Once the damn thing was built, there was no point not using it. Shows him to be a bit passive aggressive and stubborn.

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By ELL ARTEE (anonymous) | Posted October 21, 2014 at 15:09:55

Ok, Charles Ball. I see the strategy then it brings McHattie onto Fred's playing field because Fred has been saying that for the beginning. I was just kidding about Baldassaro, and didn't even know he was against LRT; however, the reality is that Brian who I liked because he was principled is turning out to be just like the rest of them. Selling his principles for a political price.

Not impressed. And I truly am in a quandary.

Brad...never.
Brian...on my list but now have reservations.
Fred...wasn't as strong as he should have been but seems to be in the lead

The rest...puhlease!!

None of the above? A real option, but what will that get us?

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By z jones (registered) | Posted October 21, 2014 at 16:24:59 in reply to Comment 105496

Is that you Larry?

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By No (registered) | Posted October 21, 2014 at 20:42:34 in reply to Comment 105500

Your act gets old. It isn't Larry. It's someone who speaks for most of the city, I'd wager. When Larry posts, you know it.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted October 21, 2014 at 21:31:15 in reply to Comment 105507

You speak for most of the city? Wow. With that kind of arrogance no wonder z jones thinks you're Larry.

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By No (registered) | Posted October 22, 2014 at 18:36:45 in reply to Comment 105511

I didn't post the "ELL ARTEE" comments. I'd say YOUR arrogance and ignorance is pretty pathetic

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By z jones (registered) | Posted October 21, 2014 at 21:00:37 in reply to Comment 105507

Nice try Larry.

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By No (registered) | Posted October 22, 2014 at 18:37:18 in reply to Comment 105509

It's flattering to see a troll troll go out of his way to try and link my post to the original one. wuvu2 <3

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By z jones (registered) | Posted October 22, 2014 at 20:04:53 in reply to Comment 105557

Hugs and kisses Larry.

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By zjones (anonymous) | Posted October 24, 2014 at 06:16:28 in reply to Comment 105559

Thanks and right back at ya Brad

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By ELL ARTEE (anonymous) | Posted October 23, 2014 at 16:26:59

Here is my prediction for Mayor:

1. Baldassaro
2. Lavigne

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By DiIanni (registered) | Posted October 24, 2014 at 14:05:32

This really is me. As everyone I hope knows, I have been supporting Fred Eisenberger from the beginning of the race. With all due respect to the other candidates, I think Fred will make the best choice for Mayor. He is experienced and experience counts in running a large organization such as our city. He is also new in that he has been away from the fray for a whole term gaining valuable experience which will assist him in doing the right job for us.

So, I encourage the following:

  1. Above all, vote.
  2. Please support Fred for progressive, dynamic leadership and responsible decision-making. We cannot go wrong.

Thanks

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