Special Report: Transit

Citizens' Jury on Transit Report: Reasonable People Reaching Reasonable Conclusions

Instead of their mandate being fractured by parochialism and divisiveness, the Jurists were able to come together and arrive at a consensus that supports the best interest of the city as a whole.

By Ryan McGreal
Published March 09, 2016

A new report by a forum of citizens selected randomly from across the city recommends that the City make smart planning and effective communication its top priorities while Hamilton's light rail transit (LRT) plan is being developed and constructed.

The Citizens' Jury on Transit report calls on the city to "Adopt a culture of learning; collaborate closely with stakeholders; be bold, innovative and creative in implementing the improvements."

Crediting LRT with "great potential for city-building," the report recommends that a "well planned" implementation will achieve "development, jobs and affordable housing, making the City an even more attractive place to live, work, raise a family, grow old, visit and invest in."

However, to realize these city-building benefits, the City needs to commit to a number of foundations for success:

Background

In March 2015, Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger brought a motion to Council to establish a Citizens' Jury that would review the city's Rapid Ready LRT plan, the HSR Ten Year Strategy and the Transportation Master Plan.

A Citizens' Jury is a forum of residents randomly selected from every ward in the city and brought together to review the literature, consult with experts, hold public consultation and then come to a consensus on how to move forward, considering the best interest of the city as a whole.

While the Jury was still being put together, the Ontario Government announced full capital funding for LRT in Hamilton, setting years of uncertainty to rest and rendering the Jury's primary political objective moot. It was no longer necessary to prove to the Province that a group of reasonable Hamiltonians would support LRT if given the opportunity to undersand the issues.

However, Council still saw value in having the Jury review its Transportation Master Plan, including integrating LRT into its transit system, implementing the HSR Ten Year Strategy and reviewing area rating for transit. A group of Jurists were selected and held a series of meetings across the City between October 2015 and January 2016.

The Citizens' Jury submitted its report to Councillors at the March 2, 2016 General Issues Committe meeting. We can't link directly to the report since the City's meeting website is unusable-by-design, but you can find it under Section 7.1, Presentations.

RTH has uploaded a copy of the report so that you can download it from our server.

Sidenote: the report file appears to be a scanned copy of a printed copy of the original digital document, with the result that the text cannot be searched, highlighted or copied. (We ran the PDF through an OCR reader, and you can see the raw results.)

Reasonable Conclusions

The recommendations are notable for how reasonable and civic-minded they are. The Jury was put together from a random selection of Hamilton residents representing every ward and area of the city, and they were instructed to take an inclusive, big-picture view.

As a result, instead of their mandate being fractured by parochialism and divisiveness, the Jurists were able to come together and arrive at a consensus that supports the best interest of the city as a whole.

This pluralistic impulse is reflected perhaps most strongly in their recommendation to end area rating for transit:

There is a whole city perspective to city building by improving transit across Greater Hamilton that warrants consideration of a change to the area rating of transit. We recommend that an urban-rural area rating model be an objective as transit in the former suburbs is improved and the whole public transit system becomes coordinated and efficient. New development that comes with building rapid transit will provide new tax assessment, which will benefit the whole city.

Area rating is the system under which different parts of the city pay different tax rates toward particular services, based loosely on the level of service received locally.

Hamilton is the only city in Ontario to practice area rating in this way. The system was put in place as a compromise under amalgamation, when the Ontario Harris Government merged the municipalities of Hamilton, Ancaster, Dundas, Flamborough, Glanbrook and Stoney Creek into one city.

Council acknowledged in 2008 that the system was unfair and needed to change, but a resolution would be politically tricky, in part because it would necessarily have property tax implications and in part because it could potentially re-open the wounds of several distinct municipalities forcibly merged into one.

The City established a Citizens' Jury on Area Rating in 2010 to review this practice and recommend a solution. The Jury's report, submitted in 2011, recommended that Hamilton phase out area rating for culture and recreation, fire protection and transit over four years.

Council mostly adopted their recommendation but neglected to address transit, leaving it the only area-rated service.

Fear of Controversy

Now that a second Citizens' Jury has once again recommended that Council put area rating to bed, it is unfortunate that Councillors are already backpedalling from having to deal with it. Mayor Fred Eisenberger, who initiated both the Citizens' Jury on Area Rating and the Citizen's Jury on Transit, has already said it is unlikely to be addressed during this term.

Council has already kicked area rating down the road several times, having declined to deal with it in 2008 and again after the first Jury recommendation in 2011. In 2015, Ward 4 Councillor Sam Merulla withdrew his motion to end area rating in order to roll it into the Citizens' Jury on Transit.

Now we are being told - without any actual vote from Council - that Councillors won't touch the issue until some time after 2018.

This is unacceptable. The whole point of the Citizen's Jury was to de-politicize a contentious issue and give a randomly selected group of reasonable, disinterested Hamiltonians a chance to decide how to resolve it. Area rating is fundamentally unfair, unworkable in its current form and an absolute barrier to the goal of an integrated citywide transit system.

Instead, we are stuck with a balkanized transit network in which it is politically impossible to expand service into area-rated wards because 100% of the cost of the new service must be borne by local ratepayers instead of the full-city tax base.

Meanwhile, Council's refusal to engage yet another Citizen Jury recommendation on area rating for transit is an insult to the time, effort and consideration those volunteers gave to the whole exercise. As the report states:

The jury met for about 40 hours to develop these recommendations. It is important to the jury to know what happens with them so they can feel that their time and effort was worthwhile and future juries will know this too.

As Hamilton seeks to be "the best place in Canada to engage citizens," Council needs to weigh the corrosive effects of any decision to ignore the results of a high-quality exercise in engagement on Hamiltonians' future willingness to engage in such exercises again.

Finally, if Councillors cannot muster up the courage to rise above narrow parochialism and divisiveness and make the best policy decisions for the City, they really need to ask themselves what they are doing steering the ship of state in the first place.

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. 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.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted March 09, 2016 at 16:06:19

Silly citizen jurors. Don't they know this is Hamilton?

The Citizens Jury has the right to make recommendations to Council.

Council has the right to ignore them.... Until the pressure to "do something" becomes overwhelming. Then Council calls another Citizens Jury.

Rinse and repeat.

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By GrapeApe (registered) | Posted March 09, 2016 at 16:11:04

It really seems like someone wants to obfuscate these documents to make them unusable. Thank you for uploading and OCRing that mess.

Sidenote: the report file appears to be a scanned copy of a printed copy of the original digital document, with the result that the text cannot be searched, highlighted or copied. (We ran the PDF through an OCR reader, and you can see the raw results.)

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By jim (anonymous) | Posted March 09, 2016 at 17:44:40

Fred is sharp enough to realize he lacks the leadership required to stick handle area rating through council. The "harmony" that currently exists is a house of cards which this loose thread will decimate. Us against them, urban vs. rural, ward against ward.

Fred prefers nice over equitable, believes unity is more important than progress. Kick this down the road until someone with some cajones takes the lead

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted March 09, 2016 at 20:50:01 in reply to Comment 116932

Wasn't that the big knock against Fred 1.0? He was unable to lead the rest of council so it devolved into bickering, infighting and mistrust. That was only exasperated with BoBra.

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By not trying to be mean (anonymous) | Posted March 10, 2016 at 08:15:56 in reply to Comment 116936

fyi: exacerbated - not trying to be mean, just for next time :) Although it's true that many of us were exasperated by him

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted March 10, 2016 at 22:50:37 in reply to Comment 116944

Actually, it was used correctly, if only in an archaic sense. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/exasper...

Archaic. to increase the intensity or violence of (disease, pain, feelings, etc.).

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By hamiltoncynic (anonymous) | Posted March 10, 2016 at 06:55:29

"Council needs to weigh the corrosive effects of any decision to ignore the results of a high-quality exercise in engagement on Hamiltonians' future willingness to engage in such exercises again."

Too funny! Discouraging Hamiltonians from being willing to engage is half the point.

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted March 11, 2016 at 11:20:11

While we are not members of the Jury, several of us (myself, Nicholas, Alain, Damin, etc) attended the meetings that were open-to-public. Citizen Jury had three meetings that were open to public. Most of the discussions were reasonable and sensible. Regardless of what opinion of the Citizen's Jury purpose (politics...), a lot of us agreed with the vast majority of their recommendations.

For those interested, there is a second Citizen Jury document, which was their PowerPoint presentation to the council:

PowerPoint: Presentation to General Issues Committee, March 2nd, 2016

[Valid at the moment -- link subject to change if doc storage updated]

Comment edited by mdrejhon on 2016-03-11 11:22:53

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