The approach of providing transit based on ridership is no longer acceptable to today's employers. They are expecting that transit service will be provided from day 1.
By Anne Tennier
Published April 18, 2017
Dear Councillors Conley, Jackson, Pasuta, Pearson, VanderBeek and Whitehead,
I have had the privilege of knowing and working with all of you for many years, and through that time I'd like to think that while we may not have seen eye to eye on all things, our discussions have always been frank, cordial, respectful and open-minded. With that in mind, I'm writing to you today regarding the proposed LRT project in Hamilton.
I will be upfront with you - I am supportive of this project, but perhaps not for the same reasons that have been put forward through various social and mainstream media outlets.
I'm looking at this project from the perspective of someone who has had the privilege of being on the negotiating teams that brought two large manufacturing facilities to Hamilton, that being the Maple Leaf Foods Heritage facility on Glover Road and the Canada Bread Trillium facility on Nebo Road.
I hope you'll agree that attracting these two plants was a major economic development "coup", and remains a source of pride for the City of Hamilton in terms of its ability to attract diverse industrial sectors - pride that is well deserved as both the City and company worked very well together toward a good result for the community.
Since Wednesday's vote is ostensibly focused on the project's environmental report, I'd like to put forward some positive indirect environmental impacts that may not have been thought about in the discussions so far.
An aspect of attracting the Maple Leaf facility that was extremely important was the provision of transit services to the plant, once ridership numbers warranted it.
Of course, providing transit services to one facility would benefit other users in the Red Hill Business Park, including the Canada Bread facility and the Countrywide Recycling plant. Since then, Navistar and FibraCast have also benefited from these services. However, it took more than two years to develop ridership that warranted more than a TransCab service.
The approach of providing transit based on ridership is no longer acceptable to today's employers. They are expecting that transit service will be provided from day 1, in a manner and frequency that is appropriate to industrial users.
Why? First, it is critical to attracting and retaining employees. While Hamilton may have a terrific workforce, if they can't get to where the jobs are that's a problem.
Second, many large manufacturing employers have ambitious sustainability goals that include employee commuting. On that note, Hamilton offers an innovative industrial incentive program regarding LEED® - Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a green building certification program operated by the Canada Green Building Council.
Both plants are LEED® Gold facilities. One of the more difficult points to earn was related to providing transit options as we got into a bit of a circular "argument" - we can't get transit until we improve ridership, but we can't improve ridership until we get transit. It seems a little ironic that the City would offer such an innovative program, but struggle to provide transit at the early stages of a project.
Third, escalating land costs in southern Ontario are such that large employers need to ensure that whatever land they purchase is put into productive use. Purchasing land so that 25 percent or so of it will be covered in employee parking will no longer be acceptable. In fact, I predict that site plan approval requirements regarding onsite parking standards will need to be seriously overhauled to address this issue.
So how do you get employees to facilities that are on the outer edges of the city? Transit, carpooling, providing electric chargers (both plants have approximately 12 electric-vehicle charging stations) become critical to addressing this issue.
How do I know that the approach of providing transit based on ridership is no longer acceptable? Because I am currently on a negotiating team for a large manufacturer where this is a significant point of discussion. The company is insisting on appropriate transit service from day 1, and the municipality has agreed to provide it. Hamilton must remain competitive with these changing employer expectations.
So, what do these indirect environmental benefits at facilities that are some 15 km from the downtown core have to do with LRT?
The province has been clear that it is providing funding for LRT and not for other transportation options. Thankfully, this will allow significant redeployment of buses to the Mountain - hopefully the east Mountain where these major industrial employers are located. It will also increase the ability of downtown employees to efficiently get to the Red Hill Business Park.
Further, I know that many younger managers and supervisors are choosing to live in condos in the downtown core - LRT makes downtown living that much more attractive.
My husband and I lived in Calgary from 1996-1999, and used the C-Train daily. We commuted from Douglasdale in the southeast to Canadian Pacific Railway's downtown head office. At that time, Calgary was a city of about 500,000 people, and every day the C-Train was filled. In fact, the downtown portion of the line is a zero-fare zone to encourage people who must move from building to building to do so using transit.
By 1996, the C-Train had been operational for 15 years and was a critical asset to boomtown Calgary. The original line that opened in 1981 was around 12 km long - sound familiar? Now the C-Train has 59 km of trackage connecting the north, south, east and west neighbourhoods with the downtown core, and further expansion is in the works.
While this may be an ambitious target, given that Calgary's population now tops 1 million people, we should aspire to proportional growth of our LRT to connect our various communities together. But, to do that, we need to take that first step.
Clearly there will be disruption during construction. The effort to understand what businesses along the construction route need to survive and thrive during the execution of this project has already started - I believe that is where our focus as a city should be.
We have demonstrated our resilience as a city in the face of dwindling steel production - why shouldn't we approach the construction of LRT with the same dedication to resilience has we have over the past 5-6 years?
In any event, I hope this has provided a different perspective in what has become a pretty acrimonious debate. The acrimony is reaching a crescendo that I fear will become the next deamalgamation debate - a divisive debate that continues to flare up some 17 years later.
Some might think that by delaying approving the environmental report, perhaps the next provincial government will be more flexible in its approach to funding. In my view, that approach is fraught with risk at best, and foolhardy at worse.
While it might be tempting to acquiesce to opinion polls in the short term, I urge you to think about the long game - how we will continue to attract major industrial employers as part of the ambitious city that we have demonstrated we can be, and that we need to continue to be in the future. Let's do what's right for the future of our city, not what's expedient in the short-term.
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