Transportation

If We Build LRT, They Will Come

By Sean Burak
Published November 26, 2009

(This was published as a letter to the editor in today's Spectator.)

Re: 'Would LRT be a white elephant?' (Letters, Nov. 24)

White elephant: a possession of which its owner cannot dispose and whose cost of upkeep is out of proportion to its usefulness. By this standard definition, the true white elephants would be the power centres the letter writer mentions, which cost us dearly - not only due to physically servicing them, but because they drain local dollars into the pockets of distant owners.

Research indicates that LRT draws development into every city that implements it. LRT systems routinely attract huge investment dollars, generate tax revenue and increase ridership numbers. LRT systems often pay for themselves several-fold within a short period of their implementation. Almost every city that builds one chooses to expand it within the first few years of operation.

Hamilton is not different. We play by the same economic rules as everyone else, and developers watching our rapid transit progress will respond to the same incentives they do in every other city that has built light rail. If we build it, they will come.

If we reject LRT based on reasoning that people will shop at power centres anyway, we will continue to have the downtown we have right now --one that does not offer residents the services they need, forcing them to leave the city to work, shop and play.

The centre of our city reflects and represents each of us. Despite its shortcomings, 180,000 people live in the lower city - within wards that do not contain a power centre.

Will we finally build something enticing that will keep their dollars downtown, while also attracting more people and dollars? Or will we continue approving development at the fringes, sucking the life from our core?

Sean Burak was born in Hamilton but raised elsewhere in Ontario. He returned to his birth town at the turn of the century and has never looked back. Sean is the owner of Downtown Bike Hounds.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 26, 2009 at 09:53:44

Great letter Sean. Well done.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted November 26, 2009 at 13:23:10

"Research indicates that LRT draws development into every city that implements it."

Really? What about Detroit or Buffalo?


In order for LRT to be successful it has to be competitive with cars. Why would someone choose to wait by the side of the road in the cold weather for LRT that will get you to your destination four times longer than a car would?

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By matthewsweet (registered) | Posted November 26, 2009 at 14:08:36

Detroit? You mean the People Mover, automated elevated trains? Not exactly LRT.

Also, if the best you can come up with to disprove LRT's benefits are 1.5 cases that went poorly versus the many many more that do work, then kindly move along.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted November 26, 2009 at 14:22:21

Sean >> Research indicates that LRT draws development into every city that implements it.

If that's the case, then let the developers pay for it? If they have the most to gain from seeing their property values appreciate, let them take the risk. If they aren't willing to do this, then it's obvious the LRT is not a such a great investment. If it was, why would they leave money on the table?

>> Hamilton is not different. We play by the same economic rules as everyone else,

One rule of economics is that if you want more of something, you tax it less. Therefore, if we want more demand for Hamilton properties, we need to tax them less. Currently, Hamilton taxes each dollar of residential properties at twice the rate of Toronto. If we want to change this, we need to keep reducing residential tax rates. There is no other solution.

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By jonathan dalton (registered) | Posted November 26, 2009 at 15:52:35

Buffalo is an extremely weak case against LRT at best. Just read this: http://hamiltonlightrail.com/article/lig...
Detroit is a non-starter.

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By name (anonymous) | Posted November 26, 2009 at 16:18:43

Smith, we have covered this before and your inability to even try to understand why it doesn't work that way is starting to get old. Do you suggest that each landowner pays for the section of LRT directly in front of their property? And they all get together and plan it themselves? By the way, the question is rhetorical so please don't answer.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted November 26, 2009 at 16:42:57

I have asked the question below several times on past posts and nobody promoting LRT has answered it. Can someone please do so?

In order for LRT to be successful it has to be competitive with cars. Why would someone choose to wait by the side of the road in the cold weather for LRT that will get you to your destination four times longer than a car would?

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By your assertion is wrong, that's why (anonymous) | Posted November 26, 2009 at 17:10:43

Well, your question is BS because for someone to answer it they must agree that a trip would take "four times longer" via LRT than via car, which is very likely not even close to beign true.

If you prove your four-times-as-long claim then someone might attempt to respond.

Otherwise, you should revise your question to make it a genuine request for information rather than a sneaky way to force someone to agree with your incorrect assumption that taking LRT would be too inconvenient for most people.

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By JonC (registered) | Posted November 26, 2009 at 17:24:57

Capitalist, there are two factors in there a) money. If you can't figure that out you're the world's worst capitalist. Make sure to take into account, capital outlay, maintenance, fuel, parking, insurance, maintaining surface or structural parking, etc. That's going to be significantly more than a pass in most cases. b) time. You're assuming a travel time four times longer by rail. Obviously you created that out of thin air. I'll postulate that there are instances where light rail would be quicker than driving. Even in a case where it might still make sense for someone to drive to work, it might be beneficial to that individual to catch the rail to another urban destination during the work day. I used to hope on the TTC at lunch when I worked in Toronto to run errands or go shopping. I can guarantee that was easier than walking to the parking lot, paying a full days pass, going up three flights of stairs, driving somewhere else, parking, walking down three flights of stairs, doing whatever, paying again, up the stairs again, drive back to the original lot and park down more stairs. In that case, the TTC is significantly quicker and about $20 cheaper. So, I'm not sure why four was the magical ratio you chose, but good work picking a random number. You should have went big with 400 or so. No imagination.

As for Smith, we've covered numerous times that the actual dollar figure of taxation for Toronto and Hamilton are within statistical normalcy and less than all the other surrounding suburbs, you stupid jackass. Please go unplug your mother's modem.

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By Meredith (registered) - website | Posted November 26, 2009 at 17:25:50

Perhaps Capitalist has never subway, LRT, or other rapid transit system that shoots by all the cars in rush hour?

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By jonathan dalton (registered) | Posted November 26, 2009 at 17:30:14

Not taking '4 times as long' literally, also taking into account that the 'wait by the side of the road' part means 5 minutes, and cold weather is a fact of life here, it's not hard to find reasons.

-The fare may be cheaper than the gas it takes to drive -Your wife, husband or kid may be using the car -You want to sell the second car and keep more money in your pocket -You're going to downtown or McMaster where the fare is cheaper than parking -Walking to the light rail stop may be a pleasant walk, allowing you to stop and grab a coffee and enjoy the cool evening air. -Imagine you're really into a book at the time and don't get time to sit down and read. Can't do that in traffic. -Maybe you're just getting sick of the cost of car repairs, gas and insurance, sick of sitting in traffic, dealing with bad drivers, or even realize the stupidity of one person in every car taking up all this space on the road - I sure did.

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By JeffTessier (anonymous) | Posted November 26, 2009 at 23:06:28

There's nothing intrinsic to "rapid" transit that necessarily makes it faster than driving and I think objections like the "four times as long" argument really just belie a different vision of urban living than a real problem with rapid transit, a means of transportation Capitalist seems not to understand anyway.

You could easily design a city in which it is four times faster to drive somewhere than to go by any other means. It'd be a city in which you have expressways running through neighbourhoods, synchronised lights helping to pump cars along those expressways, and a surface parking lot around every corner. And - here's the part we haven't fully mastered, yet - you'd have a shoddily implemented rapid transit system. Obviously it would be faster to drive. But that's a planning problem, not a problem with the system. People who think that poor efficiency and sub-par service are 'features' of public transportation are, I think, just relying on an urban vision in which that's the kind of public transportation you get. There are other priorities and nothing truly public receives the full energy of the city government.

But it's an "argument" that should have the attention of LRT advocates, because if LRT can be screwed up anywhere, it'll be screwed up here, by people with the same vision and critical thinking skills as Capitalist.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted November 27, 2009 at 04:43:41

name >> Do you suggest that each landowner pays for the section of LRT directly in front of their property?

Investors/banks are in the business of lending money to people they think can pay it back. If "everyone" knows that LRT lines are great investments, developers should have no problem accessing capital privately.

Therefore, public funding for an LRT line is completely unnecessary.

JonC >> we've covered numerous times that the actual dollar figure of taxation for Toronto and Hamilton are within statistical normalcy and less than all the other surrounding suburbs

If you live in Hamilton and the value of your house goes up 5%/year, property taxes reduce that to 3.41%/year.

If you live in Toronto and the value of your house goes up 5%/year, property taxes reduce that to 4.15%/year.

So while you may claim that people get a good deal living in Hamilton, this isn't the case at all, it's the complete opposite.

Do you understand? 4.15%/year is better than 3.41%. Get it?

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By JM (registered) | Posted November 27, 2009 at 08:09:28

A Smith >>> "If that's the case, then let the developers pay for it?"

....so then why don't we get developers to pay for ALL the roads? it seems to be a worthy investment in your terms.

imagine how much that will lower taxes - i'm sure capitalist will approve of that!

JM

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By g. (anonymous) | Posted November 27, 2009 at 17:08:57

capitalist,

in order for lrt to be worth while it need not just compete with cars. it can instead very powerfully INDUCE travel, much in the same way that 400 series highways have over the last 40 years induced BILLIONS of miles of travel.

it never occurs to people who have driven all their lives that some people are forced into having to commute via car and would gladly avoid the bother of car ownership to hop on a train or subway because it is easier. it also never occurs to them that all the people who would love to live in a dense urban environment with relatively robust public transit and all the associated benefits that grew up in hamilton or came to hamilton for post secondary education do so by moving the hell out of hamilton. they are not sitting at home waiting for one day for the city to get with it. people adapt and do what they have to.

i agree that for the majority of the CURRENT population of the city that lrt will simply not be an everyday option. but over time buildings will be built, jobs will relocate, students will stay, people will start living and working and playing near an lrt stop. the lrt will create its own demand. the same way the QEW did 40 years ago. do you think people commuted from hamilton to richmond hill everyday in 1972?

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted November 27, 2009 at 22:03:00

g. >> over time buildings will be built, jobs will relocate, students will stay, people will start living and working and playing near an lrt stop.

Why will this happen?

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By z jones (registered) | Posted November 28, 2009 at 14:13:55

"Why will this happen?"

Just to spite you, A Smith. Just to spite you.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted November 29, 2009 at 07:19:03

Can any LRT supporters explain how the LRT will attract thousands of people to live and shop downtown? The downtown already has the highest concentration of transit in the city and yet it has the lowest property values and most vacant buildings. Conversely, the areas of the city with the least amount of public transit have the highest property values and the most popular shopping destinations.

The people of Hamilton have spoken through the marketplace and the they are telling us that public transit should be scrapped. Cut taxes and and return the money to the people so they can buy more goods and services at places like the Meadowlands. It's what the people of Hamilton want.

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted November 29, 2009 at 07:59:12

Meadowlands? That is one of the worst places to go. It is very unfriendly for a shopping experience period.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted November 29, 2009 at 16:44:05

People respond to incentives. We currently give a high incentive to use a car for all work/play/chores. Unfortunately, growth and development which happens in response to peoples' choice to drive everywhere tends to be low density and wasteful. This limits the number, size and scope of these developments which in turn limits the capability to generate tax income. The end result is that the cost of servicing developments can easily outweigh the income, putting the city into a downward spiral. Sound familiar?

Smith, you already understand the argument about responding to incentives - every few minutes on this very site you use it as a basis for your "lower tax rates" argument (which we are still waiting to read your full fledged article on).

A properly built LRT system provides a transportation option that is more convenient than driving for many trips currently taken by car. For in-town trips and errands, a well designed transit system is faster, easier and cheaper than getting into a car, battling traffic, finding and paying for parking etc. LRT wil not eliminate car trips from most peoples' lives but it will replace some of them.

People respond to incentives - and a properly built rapid transit system gives people many incentives to use it. Our current public transit system is not properly built, so ridership is low (the incentive is not there).

By providing a system that people will actually use, the city is opening the doors to more dense development. This means more people and services in a smaller area, which translates to a much higher tax-income-to-servicing-cost ratio. Which could easily translate to lower tax rates.

Smith, did you know that an LRT could lower your taxes?

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