By Ryan McGreal
Published May 09, 2008
With the announcement by the city's rapid transit office that the public comments they've received have strongly supported light rail, we may be tempted to rest on our laurels and assume that LRT is a fait accompli.
To quote the inestimable Han Solo, "Great, kid. Don't get cocky!"
It's more critical than ever that we continue to spread the word about light rail: educate as many people as possible about what it is and how it works; counter misinformation (and disinformation) about its costs, performance and return on investment; address the negativity of people who believe Hamilton can never be a great city; work with the city to ensure they make prudent decisions about routing and system specifications; and reach out to people and groups who, until now, haven't been that interested in the subject but will sit up and take notice once they discover how big this plan is and how much it will transform the city.
As light rail gets closer to prime time, it will come under much closer scrutiny from every quarter, and it will be more actively opposed by people and groups who fear that it may hurt their interests.
Until now, we have mostly studied cities whose light rail projects have been successful. We also need to study cities that haven't enjoyed as much success, so we can understand what went wrong, avoid making the same mistakes here, and answer challenges that use these failures as examples.
We also need to continue working with the province to ensure that they keep their promise to pay the capital costs (and perhaps also provide more operations funding - possibly through the existing gas tax transfer).
In addition, we need to persuade the federal government to get on board and commit capital funding. This may be the hardest sell: over the past two years, the federal government has shown little interest in reaching out to urban voters or demonstrating an understanding of their values and needs.
Have no doubt: if we're going to do this properly, we need a federal commitment to support the project. The good news is that the feds have expressed some interest, but they seem to think the operating costs for LRT are higher than for BRT, and they remain cagey about how they will evaluate Hamilton's plan.
That means we need to communicate with our federal MPs, particularly those in the governing Conservative Party, to persuade them that this is an investment worth supporting.
In other words, our work of advocating for light rail has only just begun. The real challenges still lie ahead.