Special Report: Light Rail

Hamilton Light Rail Delegation to Oct. 25, 2016 General Issues Committee

Council specifically and repeatedly voted to ask the Province to approve and fund this plan, and we were elated when the Province delivered in 2015.

By Ryan McGreal
Published October 26, 2016

The following is the text of my delegation to the October 25, 2016 General Issues Committee meeting on Hamilton's Light Rail Transit (LRT) project.

My name is Ryan McGreal and I'm here on behalf of Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen advocacy group that formed in 2007 when a Provincial LRT investment in Hamilton first became a serious possibility.

First of all, thank you for your consistent stewardship of this important project over the last eight years. By my count, since 2008 City Council has voted at least 44 consecutive times to move the LRT project forward.

That includes the five-part Rapid Transit Feasibility Study in 2008 and 2009, which looked at both the east-west B-Line and north-south A-Line and compared bus rapid transit with light rail transit.

It includes voting in 2013 to submit the Rapid Ready LRT plan to the Province for funding, and then voting again to re-affirm that the LRT plan is actually an LRT plan.

Council specifically and repeatedly voted to ask the Province to approve and fund this plan, and we were elated when the Province delivered in 2015.

After the Provincial announcement, Council voted to establish an LRT Sub-Committee and an LRT office to work with Metrolinx on implementing the line, and to sign a Memorandum of Agreement. The Agreement says:

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 facilitate and expedite the construction and completion of the Project.

It also says:

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.

Again, that's the Council-approved agreement, and we're right on schedule in our negotiations with Metrolinx, so I expect that Council will continue to support that schedule, and will continue to do so "expeditiously, diligently and in good faith".

Now, I understand that the MOA is not a legally binding contract, but it is a procedurally-binding Council motion, and that means Council has a commitment to work toward making this project successful instead of trying to undermine, delay or obstruct it.

This has been an extraordinarily long run in which the City and Province have remained aligned on a clear. ambitious vision for capital investment in rapid transit. LRT is often called a once-in-a-generation opportunity, but it feels more like once-in-a-lifetime.

If we fumble the ball now, we will lose a decade of momentum, an extremely rare alignment of political opportunities, and an incalculable sum of goodwill.

We will also send a clear message to the world that Hamilton cannot be trusted to follow through on its own plans.

What senior level of government would want to spend political capital on such an unreliable partner?

What investor or developer would want to risk doing business in such a capricious political environment?

Hamilton's renaissance is not yet self-sustaining, and killing LRT now risks destroying the progress we've made and throwing us into a tailspin.

I'd also like to touch on the HSR Ten Year Strategy, because I'm hearing some councillors say we have to finish that before we can start the LRT.

I have good news: we're two years into the Ten Year Strategy, and eight years away from the LRT starting service. That means we have time to get ready.

When the Province committed a billion dollars for rapid transit in Hamilton, they also told us that we are responsible for local transit.

Toward that end, we have the Provincial Gas Tax, which must invested in transit, and the Federal Gas Tax, which is supposed to be invested in transit.

In 2015, the City received $31 million in Federal Gas Tax but spent only $3 million on transit. The rest went into roads.

If Council commits to spending the gas tax on transit each year for the next eight years, that's an extra $224 million to fund our Ten Year Transit Strategy.

Council also has a responsibility to end area rating for transit.

We simply cannot have a robust, well-connected citywide transit system if different parts of the city are locked into paying different rates and receiving different service levels.

You cannot say with a straight face that you support better citywide transit if you are not also a champion to end area rating.

Finally, a quick word on leadership. Each of you has a clear choice: you can choose to stoke fear, resentment and cynicism, play up difficulties, drive a wedge between groups, undermine confidence, confuse, and obstruct.

Or, you can choose to focus on the big picture, maintain a strategic view, navigate through challenges and bring people together around a common vision.

If recent world events have taught us anything, it is that when you feed the beast of fear and divisiveness, you risk creating a monster that can escape your control.

You have been responsible stewards of Hamilton's rapid transit vision for nearly a decade now, and despite many challenges, we are finally on the cusp of realizing that vision.

This would be an excellent time to see it through and produce a legacy of accomplishment this city will never forget.

Thank you for your time.

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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