Light Rail

LRT Investment Both Visionary and Proven

By Ryan McGreal
Published January 12, 2011

So we fall over ourselves to come up with tens of millions of dollars to pour into an oversized stadium that will be used ten times a year by a sports team that's barely viable - but a $130 million investment in a transformative rapid transit system is suddenly out of the question?

"If we have to put in a sizeable contribution, forget it," said [Ancaster Councillor Lloyd] Ferguson, though he said the operating costs were lower than running a bus.

According to City finance manager Rob Rossini, "this excludes any revenue growth from increases in additional property assessment due to the economic benefits of LRT and the transformational, city-building impacts it could have."

Light Rail Transit generates wealth by parlaying urban efficiencies more effectively. It provides an anchor for new dense, mixed use developments that increase population density, improve infrastructure productivity and boost the rate of innovation.

It helps create an environment friendly to the kinds of new, high-growth companies that will produce tomorrow's jobs and generate tomorrow's wealth.

It's not "drinking the Kool-Aid", as Councillor Brad Clark puts it, to make an investment that is both visionary and strongly grounded in empirical evidence. The most delusional thing we can do is stay rooted in the underperforming status quo.

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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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted January 12, 2011 at 08:05:22

Ryan, forgive me if I'm wrong, but has Metrolinx not stated their preference for owning the lines they build? Would this not suggest that they would provide the majority of capital funding?

Also, for comparison, how much was Toronto slated to contribute to Transit City?

Finally, as for the city being able to afford the stadium but not LRT, I would think that if not for the future fund, we wouldn't have been able to contribute significantly to either. Unless the city does some fundraising I don't think we could afford to substantially contribute, despite the fact I'm a huge LRT proponent. This is why I hope Metrolinx will cover the capital costs.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted January 12, 2011 at 08:09:31

So then why are we falling all over ourselves to empty the future fund into the pockets of a few high profile businessmen instead of spending it on a project that will actually benefit the city and improve FUTURE prospects?

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By Mogadon Megalodon (anonymous) | Posted January 12, 2011 at 09:00:23

“STA-TUS QUO! STA-TUS QUO!”

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By Avenger (anonymous) | Posted January 12, 2011 at 09:30:19

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By told you so (anonymous) | Posted January 12, 2011 at 09:31:00

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By told you so (anonymous) | Posted January 12, 2011 at 09:32:12

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted January 12, 2011 at 09:43:51

@Avenger

Wrong at every turn?

Avenger, I would think that in debating things like the stadium location, there wouldn't be a "right" or "wrong" answer. There will be certain sites that are advantageous for different reasons, and there will be certain sites that are preferred by one party over the other, but to say we were "wrong at every turn" is, I think quite arrogant and misinformed.

Not to mention the fact that we've had articles for and against various stadium locations featured on RTH, and the nature of the stadium debate resulted in an ever-shifting debate where we surely could not have been "wrong at every turn".

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By mrgrande (registered) | Posted January 12, 2011 at 09:59:52

$130M is a show stopper. No matter what your position is on the LRT we don't have that kind of money. Short of a funding miracle this project is dead before its born

I think it would be a show stopper if the city is expected to put all or most of the money upfront, but I don't believe that's the case.

It's funny... It seems many of my facebook friends that thought $150 million for a stadium is perfectly fine are screaming bloody murder at $130 million for an LRT line.

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By matthewsweet (registered) | Posted January 12, 2011 at 10:06:00

Don't feed the trolls

I attended the Land Use workshop for the B-Line last night. The usual objections were well in place, ie traffic disruption, construction delays, businesses need people to drive to them, etc. This smacks of something that I always remember Ryan writing about some time ago, described as Survivor Bias (correct me if I'm a bit off on that). Those who have made their living under the current conditions will naturally fear changing what is currently working for them. The uncertainty of future projections for development is too much for many people to overcome. I can't fault them for that. However we cannot cater to those narrow interests. Traffic will find a way to continue flowing through a city designed to cater to the car, construction is a fact of life and this is no different than a major road reconstruction which would not meet with such opposition, and I personally wonder how many businesses along the B-Line corridor already do a lot of their business through walk-ups rather than drive-ups.

A businessman I listened to speaking to one of the Rapid Transit staff said he needed to see specific case studies which closely mirrored the situation in Hamilton. That is a totally fair request and points to exactly the sort of approach that RTH and Hamilton Light Rail have taken for the past few years in advocating for light rail. Focus on empirical data, show the successes in other cities similar to our own, take the best practices from around the world and apply them hear, let the facts speak for themselves. What has worked elsewhere can work here. The biggest thing standing in our way is fear of change and self-loathing that pervades our city and people. "It couldn't possibly work here, this is Hamilton". Yes it can.

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 12, 2011 at 10:07:30

unless city council can show me another project they are willing to implement in the lower city that has the potential to return between $1-$2 BILLION dollars on this $130 million investment, I'll wholeheartedly endorse spending this money.

Those are real numbers from other cities who have built LRT. This is about growing the tax base so we don't have to live the rest of our lives saying "we can't afford this, we can't afford that". The only way we'll ever be able to afford anything is to see hundreds of millions and billions of dollars invested in our community and create a new tax base, new jobs, new spinoffs etc....

The status quo is all around you. If you like what you see, please do us all a favour and move to another city that wants to stay stuck in the mud forever.

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By told you so (anonymous) | Posted January 12, 2011 at 10:08:42

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 12, 2011 at 10:09:03

Mr Grande, you're exactly right.
And the stadium will only result in us having to subsidize and prop up the football team for decades to come. LRT will make us money. Novel concept eh??

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By told you so (anonymous) | Posted January 12, 2011 at 10:10:19

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By told you so (anonymous) | Posted January 12, 2011 at 10:14:01

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted January 12, 2011 at 10:14:36

wrong at every turn

Ooh, like when Bob Young said Ivor Wynne was a bad location with no highway access, no visibility and they couldn't make money there even if they filled it? That kind of wrong at every turn?

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By told you so (anonymous) | Posted January 12, 2011 at 10:15:43

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By matthewsweet (registered) | Posted January 12, 2011 at 10:43:27

Actually told you so, I was referring to our friend Avenger and his supposed sympathy for LRT and desire for RTHers to stay off the topic, which is absurd. If you actually read my post you'll note I said I appreciate the concerns of businesses and what is required is an empirical fact based approach to calm their fears.

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By matthewsweet (registered) | Posted January 12, 2011 at 10:45:42

Damn, I just fed one.

Sorry tys, couldn't help myself. Thought I would give you something to do.

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By mrjanitor (registered) | Posted January 12, 2011 at 11:05:40

So passing on LRT and not investing $130,000,000 of city money means passing on $670,000,000 of Metrolinx money. Interesting numbers.

670 million Metrolinx money divided by 130 million city money = 5.15 increase in the buying buyer of the city money.

Now let's apply this to stadium dollar figures.

70 million HostCo money divided by 45 million city money = 1.56 increase in the buying power of the city money.

Looking at these ratios how can Hamilton not justify making this happen?

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By told you so (anonymous) | Posted January 12, 2011 at 11:22:55

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By Avenger (anonymous) | Posted January 12, 2011 at 11:28:06

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By Ty Webb (anonymous) | Posted January 12, 2011 at 12:32:28

An LRT system is used by thousands of people all day every day.
A CFL stadium is used by 5% of the city's population 10 times a year.
It is insanity to put money towards the IWS rebuild and not to the LRT.

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By Avenger buster (anonymous) | Posted January 12, 2011 at 12:56:48

Avenger wrote:

> Your support of the plan will not help. It will drive people away. Look at your debacle related to the West Harbour. You have been wrong at every turn.

Hopefully, RTH had a hand is nixing the EM and Confederation Park potential mistakes. (for the betterment of the city)

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By George (registered) | Posted January 12, 2011 at 13:02:36

From transitstudent,

A businessman I listened to speaking to one of the Rapid Transit staff said he needed to see specific case studies which closely mirrored the situation in Hamilton. That is a totally fair request and points to exactly the sort of approach that RTH and Hamilton Light Rail have taken for the past few years in advocating for light rail. Focus on empirical data, show the successes in other cities similar to our own, take the best practices from around the world and apply them hear, let the facts speak for themselves. What has worked elsewhere can work here. The biggest thing standing in our way is fear of change and self-loathing that pervades our city and people. "It couldn't possibly work here, this is Hamilton". Yes it can.

Which is exactly wy there should not be a knee jerk reaction to the cost of $130m.

It's never about cost. It's about the cost/benefit ratio.

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By matthewsweet (registered) | Posted January 12, 2011 at 14:06:12

RTH and Hamilton Light Rail was pivotal in getting LRT on the radar in Hamilton, both among the citizens and also among city staff.

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By Cityjoe (anonymous) | Posted January 14, 2011 at 03:58:20

A lot of the negative comments are all about, "The Cost", & the fact that our infrastructure needs attention more immediately.

How did the GHA infrastructure get into such bad shape?

It happened because we didn't want to pay the costs involved to fix & update it, & now we are quite literally Up That Creek without a paddle or adequate sewage treatment.

If we keep voting for the person who promises, "No Tax Increases, No Matter What!", then we are going to have to live with the consequences, as we are now. This situation didn't happen over night.

To say that 'we cannot afford LRT" is to put just one more deterrent to people wanting to live, work, & invest here. So we go from poor water, sewage, & hydro services, to complete Gridlock for 8 hours each day, plus all of the before mentioned problems.

We are now paying more for all our services + 15% HST. Hydro increases, smart meters & peak to none peak user rating. We are now charged double for water & sewage services. (water we use plus the water we put down the drains.)

Now forgive me for being a wild eyed idealist, but aren't these increases dedicated & invested into improvements to our actual systems? If they are not, why not? Or are they simply an implied "Green" deterrent to usage? (Broken & cracked water mains waste more water than an entire district!)

With current increases in all levels of taxes & services, the improvements to outdated/broken systems Ought to be coming out of that money, & infrastructure improvements ought to be evident in every area of Ontario.

There is no reason why the City should not invest in LRT, assuming that our tax dollars & utility bills are doing what they are supposed to do. Anybody who wastes an hour or more every day stuck in traffic on the 403 ought to realize that being able to get around Hamilton better to get to the Go Stn. would improve their lives significantly, just as anyone who is stuck in local traffic on a regular basis should be asking, "Why are we allowing this to happen to us?"

You get what you pay for, & a promise to pay nothing suggests that you will get nothing in return.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted January 14, 2011 at 12:43:33

CityJoe >> You get what you pay for, & a promise to pay nothing suggests that you will get nothing in return.

Employee wages/benefits make up the lion's share of the city budget. From 2005-2009, this number has increased from $466.3M to $656.1M, an average gain of 8.9% per year. In that same period of time, Hamilton's population is up 1.3%, or 0.3% per year. The number of full time employees has gone from 5,732 to 6,183, an increase of 7.9%, or 1.9% per year.

In 2005, city employee wage costs per resident was $899, in 2009, it was $1,248.1. That works out to an average increase per resident of 8.5% to pay for employee costs. In that same period of time, Ontario's GDP increased by only 7.6%, or 1.8% per year. In that same period of time, wages/salaries/other income for the people of Ontario has increased 11.7%, or 2.8% per year.

Is it right for the city to reward city workers with pay increases of 8.5% per year, when the average taxpayer got less than 2.8% over the same time frame? For that amount of money, shouldn't our city be in better shape economically than it was in 2005? And yet, in that time frame, Hamilton has lost hundreds if not thousands of good jobs?

Hamilton needs to put our bloated city government on a diet. Link wages with provincial wages and then we'll start to see an economic revival. Otherwise, more taxpayer money will simply go to prop up cushy, unionized, unproductive jobs in which there is no need to be responsive to the public they claim to serve.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted January 14, 2011 at 13:12:07

Since 2000, governments across Canada have been spending much faster than our GDP has been growing. In that same period of time, the average balance sheet of a Canadian family has been getting deeper into debt...

http://financialinsights.files.wordpress.com/2010/12/debt-to-disposable-income-canada-us21.jpg

Clue in lefties, there is no more money left to pay for your grand ideas, such as LRT or fancy new stadiums. The cupboard is bare. The productive part of the economy, the private sector, is tapped out. Please regain your common sense and remember how wealth is created, by smart people who figure out new ways of doing things and who risk their own money to get rich. NOT by central planners who have never run a business in their lives.

If Hamilton can return to it's roots of low taxes and private investment (HSR was started as a private company), this city will create thousands of new jobs. However, if people want more free candy from the government (LRT, stadium), they can kiss those job opportunities goodbye. It's a choice the people of Hamilton need to make. Hopefully they choose opportunity over empty promises from City Hall.

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By Cityjoe (anonymous) | Posted January 15, 2011 at 01:05:24

Quoting A. Smith: "Clue in lefties, there is no more money left to pay for your grand ideas, such as LRT or fancy new stadiums."

You can pay now or pay later. You cannot sustain a City with never ending road construction, & an even larger & unending supply of personal vehicles clogging those roads. It's not 1955 anymore.

Hamilton will never return to being investment friendly unless it has the infrastructure to compete with other areas. Who cares if the taxes are really low, if you can't keep the power on, & your building floods on a regular basis? You can't bring in Hi Tech companies, & expect them to deal with outdated & unreliable utilities.

These problems date back decades to politicians would would not risk their re-election by stating the Honest Truth about the state of public utilities, & the need to Maintain them with tax dollars.

You seem to say that LRT (& probably public transit in general) Isn't part of City infrastructure, & I say it Is.

If you can't get your products out to your destinations on time, you are sunk. If you can't get your inventory into your place of business, ditto. If your employees can't get to work, or are late on a regular basis because of traffic jams, you loose productivity. If employees Must purchase, insure, gas up, & maintain a car to get to work (that would be one car per wage earner.), then you must pay them more to do that.

Would you kindly give me an estimate on how much it will cost to build several new traffic lanes on each of: The Joli Cut, The Clairmont Access, the Ancaster hill on Wilson Street, or the Ancaster hill on the 403, bearing in mind that these are all escarpment locations, with deep drops on one side, & limestone cliffs on the other...?

Ooooh... none of the "lefties' here wanted a giant, super stadium in the mode that the Ti-cats seemed to want, in a distant cornfield. Rebuilding Ivor Wynne is fine with me, if it doesn't exceed or approach the costs of building a new small stadium.
I would have been equally happy if the Ti-Cats had taken the next express bus to Moncton.

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By Cityjoe (anonymous) | Posted January 15, 2011 at 01:27:47

Quoting A. Smith:"If Hamilton can return to it's roots of low taxes and private investment (HSR was started as a private company), this city will create thousands of new jobs. However, if people want more free candy from the government (LRT, stadium), they can kiss those job opportunities goodbye. It's a choice the people of Hamilton need to make. Hopefully they choose opportunity over empty promises from City Hall."

Right now the people have Hamilton have 2 choices.

They can either update this city, or loose any opportunities that might have come our way in future. People will only invest in a place that looks Forward, not backward.

Or we can pour all our taxes, resources, & energy into the suburbs & forget about downtown Hamilton. (which is what we often seem to be doing now.)

We absolutely have to watch all government spending, & how our taxes & utility payments are put back into Hamilton. If for example, Hydro One says that rate increases will go to modernizing & updating delivery systems, then we must be sure that happens, & we get good results from the money we spend.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted January 15, 2011 at 02:00:30

CityJoe >> You cannot sustain a City with never ending road construction, & an even larger & unending supply of personal vehicles clogging those roads.

Spending too much money on anything that is given away for free is bad for the economy, whether that be roads or LRT, because it leads to investing based on guess work, rather than facts. For example, if a business invests $2M to create inexpensive, but valuable shoes and ends up selling $3M worth, society is better off by $1M. Otherwise, people would not have given up $3M to buy the shoes that only cost $2M to build.

If, on the other hand, we allow the government to spend $2M upgrading a park, because that park is free to use, we have no way of calculating how much that park is worth to people. It may be worth $4M, or it may be worth $1m. We simply don't know the value created. Because we only know the cost and not the benefit, how can the government claim it was a good investment for society? This type of guesswork would never be allowed in science, or business and yet we feel it's appropriate when government spends almost 40% of our economic output.

If Hamilton wants an economy that produces lots of profits and tax revenues for the government, it needs to rely on real numbers, not guesswork. That means less government spending on freebies and more on things that people will actually pay full price for.

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By RenaissanceWatcher (registered) | Posted January 15, 2011 at 08:02:57

Today's edition of the Hamilton Spectator contains two articles by Meredith McLeod about the proposed Hamilton LRT system:

"LRT includes one-way Main east of Delta, 403 viaduct" providing information about the preliminary design concept for the proposed Hamilton LRT. A series of public workshops rolling out the Hamilton LRT concept are scheduled over the next two weeks. http://www.thespec.com/news/local/articl...

"LRT can be a catalyst for city, says lead consultant" where Ashley Curtis, project manager for Steer Davies Gleave, states that the Hamilton LRT system design will be more similar to European LRT systems than to North American LRT systems in that it will be more integrated into the city streetscape. http://www.thespec.com/news/local/articl...

Comment edited by RenaissanceWatcher on 2011-01-15 08:15:14

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted January 15, 2011 at 13:51:20

"Riders will be able to travel the 13.4 kilometres from Eastgate Square to McMaster University in 31 minutes"

As opposed to the 32 minutes it currently takes with the B-Line. But hey, who can argue with investing $130 MILLION dollars to save 60 seconds. That's a time reduction of around 3.2%. AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!

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By not so fast (anonymous) | Posted January 17, 2011 at 11:02:21

Its currently 37 minutes. The real difference is 6 minutes for $130M taxpayers money

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