Special Report: Light Rail

Councillor Brenda Johnson's LRT Opposition is Absurd

Is the former environmental project manager seriously prepared to reject a billion-dollar investment in electric rapid transit because the City and Province are on schedule with their negotiations?

By Ryan McGreal
Published October 19, 2016

Ward 11 (Glanbrook) Councillor Brenda Johnson has flip-flopped on her support for the Hamilton Light Rail Transit (LRT) project, which is currently underway with full provincial funding.

Councillor Johnson just came out with a short, haphazardly-written statement on her website that she "cannot support the LRT in its current form", citing the need to upgrade local transit service and "the lack of information" on operational details.

LRT Funding Commitment

Johnson writes that Council submitted two funding requests to the province: full capital funding for LRT and $300 million to upgrade local transit. These two funding requests are very different.

The City started planning LRT in 2007 through a long process that included extensive public engagement, an Environmental Assessment (EA) and 30 percent engineering and detailed design. Council consistently supported this process through literally dozens of votes, including formally submitting the Rapid Ready LRT plan to the Province in February 2013.

The second request, $302 million in funding for Hamilton's HSR Ten Year Strategy, was a highly political document that was pulled together at the last minute and bolted onto Council's LRT funding request in March 2015.

In May 2015, when the Province confirmed full capital funding for LRT, Transport Ministor Steven Del Duca demurred on Council's local transit funding request. The Province clarified that the purpose of the Metrolinx capital fund is to pay for regional express rail and rapid transit, not to pay for local transit.

We are now two years into the HSR Ten Year Strategy, and eight years away from the projected start date for the LRT system. There is absolutely no reason, aside from lack of leadership, why Council cannot direct the funds and staffing in order to implement its own local transit strategy in that time frame.

Tools to Fund Local Transit

Municipalities already have lots of funding tools for local transit, including the local tax levy, the Provincial Gas Tax and the Federal Gas Tax. Hamilton's track record for using these tools is dismal.

Hamilton's share of the Provincial Gas Tax pool has been shrinking steadily for years. The Provincial transfer is based partly on growth in transit ridership, and the City refuses to invest in increasing its ridership through better transit service.

Meanwhile, Hamilton spends most of its Federal Gas Tax on roads instead of transit. In 2015, the city only spent $3 million out of its $33 million federal transfer on transit. That's $30 million a year the city could invest in increasing transit service if Council was serious about this goal.

Hamilton also notoriously maintains a toxic system of area rating for transit, under which different parts of the city pay different tax rates toward transit.

The result is a balkanized transit system in which it is not only politically impossible to expand transit service into under-served wards, but also politically impossible to expand transit service in wards that have full service because the councillors in area-rated wards don't see the value.

Just a couple of years ago, Councillor Johnson decided to end TransCab transit service to Binbrook because local residents had to pay the full cost of the service under Hamilton's area rating plan.

If Council is really determined to improve citywide transit, area rating needs to end. If Johnson was a champion for ending area rating and/or putting more federal gas tax into transit, it would be easier to take her argument seriously.

Operational Details

The operational details Johnson demands are currently being negotiated as per the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the City and Metrolinx that Council ratified unanimously - including Johnson.

The MOA states in part:

The Parties affirm their commitment to proceed expeditiously, diligently and in good faith and in a co-operative and collaborative manner to negotiate and enter into a definitive agreement or agreements to include, among other things, the matters set forth in this Memorandum of Agreement to facilitate and expedite the construction and completion of the Project.

It also states:

Metrolinx is the owner and developer of the Project with responsibility for and control over: (i) scope, (ii) budget, (iii) scheduling, (iv) planning, design, and construction, (v) acquisition of the real property required for the Project except as otherwise specified, and (vi) engaging in public consultation. The determination of who will operate and maintain the vehicles and be responsible for certain matters ancillary thereto, including maintenance and operating costs, will be determined at a later date and included in future definitive agreements. [emphasis added]

Again, this is in the Agreement that Johnson voted for. It is unclear why she is suddenly unwilling to keep supporting the LRT project until she gets answers to these questions, especially since it is through the LRT implementation process that the answers will be determined!

Is Johnson, a former project manager with Environment Hamilton, seriously prepared to reject a billion-dollar investment in electric rapid transit because the City and Province are on schedule with their negotiations over how operating revenues and costs will be shared? That is absurd.

Remember that Metrolinx wants this project to succeed and is negotiating a fair deal the city can afford to accept. Meanwhile, Council has eight years to build and redeploy its transit service capacity so that it feeds into LRT and expands service levels across the city.

A major goal of Metrolinx is to integrate local and rapid transit, so a successful LRT implemention will increase demand for transit across the city, thus increasing local transit revenues as the HSR feeds the LRT and vice-versa.

Text of the Statement

Here is the full text of Councillor B. Johnson's statement:

LRT Message from Councilor [sic] Johnson

Oct 18

I appreciate everyone taking the time to write your concerns regarding the LRT.

I have always stated that we need to upgrade our HSR system in order to sustain the LRT

We had 2 requests to the Province

1) $1 Billion for ALL costs for the LRT
2) $300 million to upgrade the HSR

We received #1 but denied #2

I have consistently asked

1) who maintains/repairs/upgrade the system
2) who hires/fires staff
3) who collects the revenue

To date, I haven't received an answer to any of the above

At this time, I cannot support the LRT in its current form and ‎the lack of information

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.

7 Comments

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted October 19, 2016 at 12:08:59

Sounds like she's getting a lot of letters containing 'concerns' about LRT.

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By bobby2 (registered) | Posted October 23, 2016 at 09:57:23

Sounds like she is asking some reasonable questions! Getting the answers after everyone is totally committed & can't back out makes absolutely no sense! Just think, if this was a private business venture, would they commit without knowing all the liabilities???

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted October 24, 2016 at 13:00:54 in reply to Comment 120305

She already voted to accept the current process, which means accepting that operational details will be worked out in future definitive agreements not decided in advance.

The determination of who will operate and maintain the vehicles and be responsible for certain matters ancillary thereto, including maintenance and operating costs, will be determined at a later date and included in future definitive agreements.

She is also obligated by her Council vote to:

...to proceed expeditiously, diligently and in good faith and in a co-operative and collaborative manner to ... facilitate and expedite the construction and completion of the Project.

How can she say she can't support the project after signing onto this agreement?

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2016-10-24 13:02:57

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By bobby2 (registered) | Posted October 24, 2016 at 13:11:40 in reply to Comment 120312

Sorry, but no Councillor gives up their duty of due diligence & fiscal responsibility to Hamilton taxpayers. Accepting a Wynne Gov'ts statement of "trust us" regarding who is responsible for operational & maintenance liabilities is like believing a Liberal that says "turkeys fly"!

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted October 24, 2016 at 13:35:29 in reply to Comment 120313

I could understand it if she saw the agreement on operational details and decided it was unacceptable. That would be doing due diligence.

But she signed an agreement where both parties agreed that the operational details would be negotiated at a later time.

She is now pretending she didn't agree to this by saying she can't support the project because no one has answered her questions about what the operational details are, even though she knows very well that no one can answer those questions because they are supposed to be negotiated later!

And its not like there is no time to work out who will operate the LRT, and how revenue/costs will be shared. The first LRTs won't run for another eight years!

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By notlloyd (registered) - website | Posted October 24, 2016 at 16:37:34 in reply to Comment 120314

Well maybe they all should be fired for signing an agreement that says operational details will be negotiated at a later time.

I'm no lawyer but it seems to me that a deal is a deal when you have a deal otherwise it is just a deal to make a deal.

Comment edited by notlloyd on 2016-10-24 16:39:03

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted October 23, 2016 at 15:30:35 in reply to Comment 120305

You do realize she's already voted for it right? This is pure politicking - don't get yourself all on this politicians side. Her 'support' is irrelevant because her lack of it means nothing at this point. When her support matters again ( when negotiations regarding her questions have actually completed ) I'll start paying attention. Until then she just wants people thinking about ballots.

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