As a group, City Council has demonstrated too much passivity, a serious disconnect from the potential of this city, and a lack of long-term vision.
By Eric Gillis
Published February 12, 2013
this article has been updated
Hamilton City Council's approach to light rail transit (LRT) highlights a wider issue: Council is not in touch with the needs of most Hamiltonians, and is far too passive as a whole to be taking any true leading stance on this city's future.
Passivity and complacency: these are not options, they are pitfalls. They're failures to act, and while perhaps they're good in certain situations that demand diplomacy and proper analysis, they're not universal in their applicability. It is we citizens, the people this council represents by making decisions for us on our behalf, who suffer the most when they apply passivity and complacency as universal solutions.
So I offer an apology for the breadth of this article, but the problem is a lot bigger than just "dropping the ball" on LRT, and I don't feel comfortable pretending otherwise.
First, let me start by justifying why I even think my opinion is pertinent, and reflective of reality in regards to Hamilton needing to pursue LRT. I was born and raised in Hamilton in a single-parent family. My mother was a hairdresser, and that isn't exactly the highest-paying job around. So obviously affording a car was out of the question. This meant that any time my mother and I needed to go somewhere, public transit was the answer.
I more or less grew up on public transit. To this day, that hasn't changed. It has become a staple of my daily life. Having grown up here and now attending McMaster - and also having a job that is located outside of Hamilton - there is quite literally not a day that goes by where I do not spend at least two hours on public transit.
Whether it's commuting to work, going to school, or visiting some friends, my transportation mode is always the same: public transit. Because of this, I've seen my fair share of the problems that can arise with buses, our current public transit mode of choice.
Because bus operators do not have direct control over the state of roads and traffic, transit service is frequently plagued by failure to adhere to schedules and unrealistic route planning. Worse, on certain routes our city's buses suffer daily from severe over-capacity.
I'm not blaming the HSR or its operators for this. They do a wonderful job given the limited resources they have. No, I place my blame on city council for not realizing exactly what this city really needs, and furthermore lacking the fortitude to pursue those things.
The city definitely needs a strong, well-funded transit system. Many people in this city rely on our public transit service, but the reality is that it's simply not as comprehensive as it needs to be.
Here are a few specific examples.
Both of the mountain's theatres - SilverCity Ancaster on Golf Links Road and SilverCity Hamilton on Paramount Drive in Stoney Creek - reside in rather inaccessible locations for those who do not own cars. Both theatres are located at either end of Stone Church Road - and Stone Church has very limited transit service as a route, especially later in the evening when most people go out to watch a movie.
Another example: pretty much anyone who has ever taken routes "51", "5C", or the "1" at any regular time of day will agree with me when I say that they are suffering from overcapacity. These routes, while admittedly pretty regular, still aren't meeting the needs of the people who are using them. They're always packed.
I am not making a rash statement in saying that ridership is amazingly high on these routes. It's a fact. The 2010 HSR Operational Review found that buses operating on these routes carry 13,000 passengers a day.
This high ridership is not a negative thing - it's a great thing. More transit on these routes would mean more people moving around our city more frequently, which means more money spent around the city. Making it easier to get from Point A to Point B is never something that is going to have a negative effect on the economy.
Even Mayor Bob Bratina acknowledges, and heralds, that it is a fact our economy is being significantly and positively impacted by an improvement in the level of public transit available, specifically in the form of the all-day GO Transit service the Province has promised for Hamilton to begin in 2015.
High ridership on these routes brings the need for more transit capacity, but simply throwing more buses on to this won't solve the problem, as illustrated by a McMaster paper [PDF] analyzing the health, environmental and economic impact of LRT in Hamilton:
The results of the research on light rail transit (LRT) and its possible benefits indicate overwhelming support for the economic, health, environmental and social benefits of LRT, especially when compared to other forms of transit, including rapid bus and local transit schemes. [emphasis added]
So why, given the obvious need, benefits and desire for LRT, has Council adopted a stance that can most charitably be described as passive? Council is not in touch with the reality of Hamilton's needs and potential.
It goes without saying that our Councillors don't rely on our transit system in their own daily lives - but that's just one part of a much larger problem.
Take, for instance, the recent casino debate: we have a mayor and quite a few Councillors who are giving this casino what seems to be infinitely more consideration than the pursuit of beneficial infrastructure that would improve the quality of lives of a large majority of the people living in Hamilton. It shows just how short-term their vision is.
Why are they not giving long-term consideration to this city's future? It's not enough to be able to say, Look, we didn't raise your taxes.
What about: Look at how vigorously we've pursued improving the infrastructure of this city so as to improve the quality of life of all Hamiltonians, and in doing so pursued making Hamilton a destination of its own accord, and not just some mere hub for people to leave from towards Toronto.
It says something when your city's own government thinks that making it easier for people to leave Hamilton to work elsewhere is more important than making this city itself the destination.
Is their aspiration for Hamilton really that of a "commuter" city? A city built on short-term, gimmicky developments full of people who would rather live elsewhere, but live here for its cost-efficiency?
Another concern is that when impassioned citizens actually try to advocate for change, they are dismissed as irrelevant or not representative of the majority of people's views. There actually seems to be an effort to discredit people who participate in civil discourse on "social media" as being insignificant from a community perspective.
There seems to be an air of superiority fueling this effort, as discussed by independent journalist Wayne MacPhail.
I would not be so adamant in this regard if the Councillors of our city, and our mayor, had won landslide elections. But that is not the case. Many councillors won more than half of the votes cast in their wards, but only very small percentages of elegible voters.
Here's some simple electoral data from Hamilton's last election that can easily be pulled off of Wikipedia about our latest municipal election:
|Name||Position||Votes||Voters||Registered Voters||% Voters||% Registered Voters|
|Brian McHattie||Ward 1||5,373||8,279||20,767||64.9%||25.9%|
|Jason Farr||Ward 2||1,607||7,662||19,424||21.0%||8.3%|
|Bernie Morelli||Ward 3||3,186||7,329||23,670||43.5%||13.5%|
|Sam Merulla||Ward 4||6,787||8,420||23,721||80.6%||28.6%|
|Chad Collins||Ward 5||6,876||10,642||25,755||64.6%||26.7%|
|Tom Jackson||Ward 6||6,560||12,190||28,266||53.8%||23.2%|
|Scott Duvall||Ward 7||9,027||16,173||40,571||55.8%||22.2%|
|Terry Whitehead||Ward 8||9,908||15,135||34,259||65.5%||28.9%|
|Brad Clark||Ward 9||3,454||7,743||19,235||44.6%||18.0%|
|Maria Pearson||Ward 10||5,464||8,772||19,350||62.3%||28.2%|
|Brenda Johnson||Ward 11||4,410||10,676||24,665||41.3%||17.9%|
|Lloyd Ferguson||Ward 12||7,447||8,279||20,767||90.0%||35.9%|
|Russ Powers||Ward 13||4,884||8,450||18,439||57.8%||26.5%|
|Robert Pasuta||Ward 14||4,264||4,264||12,147||100.0%||35.1%|
|Judi Partridge||Ward 15||3396||6,526||18,609||52.0%||18.2%|
Given that not a single member of our municipal government garnered a "landslide victory" in any real sense of the term, it is hard to accept such assumed superiority. (Note: Rob Pasuta was acclaimed with no other candidates running for his ward.)
There is a clear need, if they still wish to consider themselves a legitimate representative of their people, to constantly and consistently seek to have their constituents, and the opinions of experts in related subject matters, heard and respected.
The handling of LRT and the casino alone shows that's not something that our current city council does, despite having a weak mandate to govern.
To clarify: I don't want people to think I have a low opinion of every member of city council, or even the mayor on every issue. What I mean to argue is that as a group, City Council has demonstrated too much passivity, a serious disconnect from the potential of this city, and a lack of long-term vision.
As a city, we need and deserve a lot better.
Update: updated to note that Robert Pasuta won by acclaim. You can jump to the changed paragraph.
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