The manager in charge of the rapid transit office has resigned from the City of Hamilton after a summer of politicking against LRT by Mayor Bratina and senior management.
By Ryan McGreal
Published September 08, 2011
RTH has confirmed that Jillian Stephen, the manager in charge of the City's Rapid Transit Office, has resigned from the City. Her last day will be September 22, after which she has accepted a position working with Niagara Region as their senior transportation planning engineer.
This follows the recent resignation of Harold Groen, a senior project manager for the City of Hamilton, who left the City at the end of August. Groen's last position was also in the Rapid Transit Team.
This news is sad but not surprising. Stephen's team was effectively disbanded after City Manager Chris Murray announced in July that he was suspending all work on light rail transit outside of what the City is contractually obligated to complete for the Province.
Stephen was still on vacation when Murray sent the email advising that he had made the decision that effectively de-funded and de-prioritized LRT in favour of a new task force to work on all-day GO train service. She was not aware before leaving on vacation that Murray's email was forthcoming.
Murray himself left on vacation right after sending the Friday afternoon communication, and Stephen had to wait for him to return from vacation to determine what he meant by essential and non-essential work related to the Metrolinx contract.
The email stated in part: " I have made a decision to suspend all current direct and indirect activities of the Light Rail Transit Initiative other than any work activities required to be completed under the agreement" between the City and Metrolinx in which the regional transit body provided $3 million in funding for an environmental assessment on the LRT plan.
Both before and after Murray's email, Mayor Bob Bratina has made a number of negative comments about LRT. Most recently, he said on the Bill Kelly show on CHML that LRT is "not a priority" and that the City's priority is all-day GO instead.
In response to the news, Metrolinx confirmed that it has "not asked the City of Hamilton to choose one project over the other.
It is important to remember that both rapid transit initiatives planned for Hamilton – the Hamilton LRT and all day GO Train service from Toronto to Hamilton – are viable and can co-exist. Hamilton’s current rapid transit situation is not an 'either-or' scenario.
This abrupt de-prioritization comes less than three years after Council voted unanimously to approve a motion instructing staff to undertake the "functional design, detail design and construction of the B-Line rapid transit corridor ... utilizing Light Rail Technology" in cooperation with Metrolinx, which would provide most of the capital funding under the proposed plan.
Since then, city staff from public works and from planning and economic development have been working in parallel on the design and engineering of the system, as well as an intensification study to create a secondary plan along the LRT route that encourages new investment.
Most of that work came to stop after Murray's decision to shift priority away from LRT.
Now, Councillor Jason Farr is introducing a motion for Council to reaffirm its support for LRT and ask for more funding from Metrolinx to continue its planning and design work.
However, even if Council manages to change course and make LRT a priority again, the damage - to morale, to organizational integrity, to the project's momentum - is already done.
Key Rapid Transit staffers have already decided to leave the city and take their expertise elsewhere. In the best case, will take months to assemble and train a new team that can pick up from where Stephen's team was kneecapped.