Special Report: Light Rail

Tell Council to Regain Control of the LRT File

This plan will completely reverse almost eight years and $10 million of rapid transit planning, without Council being clear what is being proposed and what the stakes are.

By Nicholas Kevlahan
Published March 06, 2015

I urge Council to please not support the HSR Ten Year Transit Strategy [PDF] until it has been thoroughly reviewed, the public has been consulted and its strategic and economic development implications have been thoroughly assessed.

I am very concerned that this plan will completely reverse almost eight years and $10 million of rapid transit planning, without Council being clear what is being proposed and what the stakes are.

Here are some reasons to take a step back and assess all alternatives:

1. The Ten Year Strategy is massive over-reach by staff, considering the 2013 Council motion was to propose a ten-year plan using $45 million of local money to achieve council's 2001 goal of doubling per capita transit use to 100 rides.

Instead, this is a $302 million plan using almost entirely provincial money that explicitly abandons our goal and proposes an extremely marginal increase to 50 annual rides per capita.

2. This Srategy costs 40 percent of the B-line LRT that involved years of public consultation, detailed land use planning, and an assessment of economic impact. The Ten Year Strategy was rushed through in secret and none of this work has been done.

3. The Strategy includes very surprising and incredibly expensive items: $200 million for a bus maintenance facility - one-quarter the entire B-Line LRT cost! - as well as $20 million for advertising, and 95% of the local money comes from high fare increases.

4. Despite claims to contrary, this plan is clearly designed to kill LRT for the foreseeable future. This is a major change of strategic direction that has held steady for the past eight years.

It is especially surprising since LRT would free up 18 buses, not much less than the 25 buses this plan is proposing to add.

The public will find it incomprehensible that we are passively throwing in the towel on LRT - and indeed any rapid transit - just weeks after Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne repeated her promise to fully fund the direct capital costs of the rapid transit system we choose!

Council needs to regain control over the LRT file. Hit the pause button, form the Citizens Forum on Rapid Transit on which the Mayor was elected, and let the citizens and council know what the real decision is.

Do we want a $200 million bus maintenance facility or do we want a $800 million B-line LRT, with all the economic developments benefits it will bring?

Please take a few moments to tell Council and the Province to keep their promise to support and fund LRT for Hamilton.

Nicholas Kevlahan was born and raised in Vancouver, and then spent eight years in England and France before returning to Canada in 1998. He has been a Hamiltonian since then, and is a strong believer in the potential of this city. Although he spends most of his time as a mathematician, he is also a passionate amateur urbanist and a fan of good design. You can often spot him strolling the streets of the downtown, shopping at the Market. Nicholas is the spokesperson for Hamilton Light Rail.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 06, 2015 at 09:18:23

Do we want a $200 million bus maintenance facility or do we want a $800 million B-line LRT, with all the economic developments benefits it will bring?

Have you seen your city council??

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By Thomas (anonymous) | Posted March 06, 2015 at 09:30:15

Hpow about dependable service, for all areas????

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By Show me the Money (anonymous) | Posted March 06, 2015 at 09:34:26 in reply to Comment 110002

Are you ready to pay for it? Scrap Area Rating.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 06, 2015 at 09:44:41

I think we should examine more area rating, not less.

Watch how fast the suburbs stop asking for cloverleaf highway ramps to Walmart and 5 lane roads across farmland when the cost structure to pay for it is area rated.

Want better ambulance response times in the middle of nowhere Flamborough. No probs. Pony up.

Oppose the 4 storey condo/townhome projects in your sprawl hood all you want....just prepare to pay higher taxes per household when the same street becomes home to 5 housing units instead of 25.

Area rate everything, and don't allow those not paying for said projects to have a vote on them....ie, urban transit etc....

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted March 06, 2015 at 13:46:28 in reply to Comment 110004

I agree. Let’s go for true area rating in which suburban households pick up their true costs. A study in Halifax showed that the City’s annual cost per household was $3,462 for suburban households and $1,416 for urban households. Suburban households cost over twice as much!

So let’s go for a City of Hamilton in which suburban households are paying their fair share. Here is my prediction: When suburban households are paying their fair share of over twice as much property tax as urban households, there will be a lot less sprawl.

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By arienc (registered) | Posted March 06, 2015 at 10:27:01

The fix is in, and has been in since the day Bob Bratina was elected. There's no going back now.

Everyone's forgotten about the requirement to connect Hamilton rapid transit to the new regional GO terminal. That in itself disqualifies the Eastgate - Mac line from being considered. Running the route on a 'spur' to the GO means it's no longer rapid transit to cross the city. Add to that the likelihood that 8 or more members of Hamilton council are now publicly drumming up opposition to rapid transit at all, it's looking increasingly like modernizing HSR is about as far as the city's going to get in the next 10-15 years.

That doesn't mean Hamilton should settle for what's on the table. $200 million for a bus garage is beyond the ridiculous, and I don't understand how anyone can consider that a judicious use of taxpayer funds. Also the issue of spending $16 million on branding before delivering any service improvements whatsoever is out there.

IMHO the plan needs to be clear on how bus service eventually gets the city to the BLAST network. The network as a whole is something that most Hamiltonians will get behind, unlike a Mac to Eastgate line that much of the city technically will benefit from, but they do not have any emotional connection to. Invest 180 million in bringing real service - every 15 minutes or less at rush hour, along all 5 of the BLAST lines. Then work on marketing the new HSR. Turn that overbuilt road network from an albatross to an asset.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted March 06, 2015 at 10:50:10 in reply to Comment 110005

IMHO the plan needs to be clear on how bus service eventually gets the city to the BLAST network. The network as a whole is something that most Hamiltonians will get behind, unlike a Mac to Eastgate line that much of the city technically will benefit from, but they do not have any emotional connection to. Invest 180 million in bringing real service - every 15 minutes or less at rush hour, along all 5 of the BLAST lines. Then work on marketing the new HSR. Turn that overbuilt road network from an albatross to an asset.

Isn't this one of the main proposals in the Transit Plan --- to establish the BLAST network as high-frequency express bus with accompanied branding, in order to spread the benefits of transit investment accross the city and not have all the money spent on the core?

I'm also confused about the debate over whether to spend money on branding or spend it on improvements. Are we saying that the HSR shouldn't spend money on developing branding for its express-bus network until it has demonstrated ridership improvements, or are we saying they shouldn't rebrand until they implement the new service? To me the branding is integral to establishing new services. If we are building the BLAST network out of express bus + LRT, it needs to be marketed as such to maximize the ridership gain. If we are proposing to spend a bunch of money on express bus service, the branding should be done to coincide with the launching of that service. Maybe $16 million is an inappropriate amount but clear branding of a high-ridership express bus network is an integral part of building that service.

Comment edited by AnjoMan on 2015-03-06 10:52:38

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 06, 2015 at 11:20:25 in reply to Comment 110007

Building LRT on the B-Line does a few things that directly benefit citywide transit:

  • Lower per-passenger operating cost means LRT riders subsidize service levels on other routes; and

  • The LRT frees up 18 buses that can be redeployed.

Of course, there are also the other citywide benefits:

  • Faster growth in ridership, which alleviates traffic congestion and reduces air pollution;

  • New intensive economic development increases the productivity of existing urban infrastructure and reduces the need to build expensive new suburban infrastructure;

and so on.

We were ready for LRT in 2008. Now we're being told we won't be ready for LRT until we have ten-minute headways in Waterdown.

Look at what Waterloo Region are doing: they're funding local transit from local investments - which is what the motion to develop the Ten Year Strategy directed our staff to do - and asking higher levels of government to help pay for rapid transit.

We're asking higher levels of government to pay for local transit and giving up on rapid transit for the forseeable future. It's a total shit show.

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By arienc (registered) | Posted March 06, 2015 at 11:51:51 in reply to Comment 110012

Agree completely with you, Ryan. Problem is, no one's sticking their necks on the line to make rapid transit in Hamilton a reality. McHattie did, but he couldn;t win the election.

Whether it's comments, letters to the editor, general sentiment among coincillors, the dial has been moving away from the view of rapid transit as a need for the city. LRT is referred to as 'a dream'. The majority of Council who once unanimously backed a provincially funded LRT have backed away in response. Liberal candidates either were mum or spoke specifically against LRT. Hmmm...who is looking to be a Liberal federal candidate again? Hence all the sowing of confusion, delay and obfuscation over the past 5 years. The province, Metrolinx, no one is willing to even give a hint that LRT is even a preference. The whole "must be a connection to GO" clause is designed to throw a wrench in the works. At this time an A-line LRT has more chance of happening than a B-line, and I suspect that was the plan right from the beginning. Based on where the ridership is we all know that is the wrong decision, but don't be surprised if some politician comes proposing to 'rescue' rapid transit with cash in hand to help build some kind of BRT-lite between the airport and the GO.

The airport, trucking and sprawl development industries have far more pull in the city than anyone is willing to give them credit for. It is absolutely a shit show.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted March 07, 2015 at 19:44:43 in reply to Comment 110016

An A-line-first LRT could be successful after the James North Station goes in if JN sees the same kind of service they get at Aldershot.

The current A-line LRT worrying, though, for 2 reasons: 1) James Mountain Road tunnel. Essentially, that access is too steep for the planned trains, meaning a reconstruction of James Mountain Road as a tunnel. That would be insanely expensive. Some kind of Claremont access system could handle an LRT, but that might mean sacrificing A-line hitting St. Joes, and that's bad for ridership.

2) The white elephant of YHM. Nobody gives a crap about the airport. Run the A-line along Mohawk to Lime Ridge Mall and it would be shorter and have a real trip-generator.

If the James Mountain Road alignment had to be scraped, I'd go with this A-line plan: - King/James - James North GO - Hamilton General Hospital, then up Victoria - Mohawk College - Then up Upper James (passing the Mountain Mall) to Mohawk Rd - Then to Lime Ridge Mall

There's a bunch of big trip-generators there, and it can be extended out to the airport when the T-line is built on Mohawk. Hits 3 malls, 2 hospitals (well, if you count St. Joe's mountain campus), 2 main bus-plazas, and commercial areas along James, Barton, and Upper James. For a grand total of 12km.

That being said, the James Mountain Road alignment would mean hitting St Joe's and provides a more direct route from King/James to the Mountain, which is obviously preferable.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 08, 2015 at 14:12:08 in reply to Comment 110038

I agree totally on not wasting our time servicing the longest stretch of low density parking lots in the city (upper james) and YHM while ignoring huge trip generators and high density corridors like Limeridge Mall, Upper James/Fennell and Mohawk Rd between Upper James and Wentworth.

Might be worth using true BRT for the A-Line in phase 1 to avoid tunnelling and to avoid the Claremont Route which skips Durand/Corktown and St Joes.

My favourite BRT buses are by VanHool (same supplier of York's VIVA buses):

http://image.auto.sk/obrazky/51/51753.jp...

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By arienc (registered) | Posted March 06, 2015 at 11:07:28

From what I read, the money for branding was an immediate ask, the improved service was to be started to roll out in 2017.

Better to underpromise and over-deliver than the reverse. Every year come budget time there will be more pressure to cut stuff from transit to pay for road repairs.

I wouldn't trust this Council with a future promise to deliver anything worth being marketed. Get good service running first, and once it's good, marketing it will be so much easier.

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By Holy (anonymous) | Posted March 08, 2015 at 15:42:19

Screw marketing/ branding. People don't use public transit based on the freaking color of the bus! Make it cheap, frequent, accessible, and far reaching, and that will grow ridership. Screw this council.

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By GrapeApe (registered) | Posted March 08, 2015 at 20:20:53

Anybody know who voted for the HSR Ten Year Transit Strategy?

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