Neither Metrolinx nor the Province seems willing to provide any straight answers on how much municipalities are being asked to contribute to rapid transit projects in the GTHA.
By Ryan McGreal
Published August 27, 2012
this article has been updated
Is Hamilton being treated as a second-class member of the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, at least as Light Rail Transit is concerned?
An August 21 report on CBC Hamilton quoted Mayor Bob Bratina saying Hamilton will have to pay some of the capital cost of the planned B-Line Light Rail Transit (LRT) line. Bratina said this after a meeting with Bob Chiarelli, Ontario Minister of Labour.
The minister clarified that Hamilton will have to raise a share of the cost of establishing an LRT service, Bratina said in a phone interview with CBC Hamilton on Tuesday.
"It was a relief to finally hear a clear statement from the minister that there will be participation expected from the host community," he said.
In a follow-up email to RTH, Bratina explained why expressed "relief":
Council has struggled with the question of funding from the very beginning when the "Big Move" was announced. There has never been any question in my mind that LRT would require some cost to taxpayers and that is now confirmed. We can now engage in specifics of how, when and where LRT would be best suited to meet the needs of Hamilton based partly on our ability to pay. Until this was made clear Council was reluctant to declare specific commitments. I believe you will now hear a much more focused discussion.
However, as Nicholas Kevlahan argued last Friday, without a clear sense of a) just how much Hamilton would have to contribute, b) what tools it would be given to raise revenue or even c) whether Metrolinx will approve the LRT plan, Council is no closer to a final decision than it was before the mayor's announcement.
Earlier this year, Metrolinx said it will not issue a final decision on the B-Line until after it completes an Investment Strategy, due June 2013.
Until now, the communication from Metrolinx has consistently been that the regional transit organization would pay 100 percent of the direct capital costs of the B-Line LRT, with the city expected to pay for things like upgraded stations or road work that was already due for completion.
In an email response to RTH, Ancaster Councillor Lloyd Ferguson wrote:
At a recent GIC meeting an executive from Metrolinx appeared in delegation. At that meeting I point-blank asked the question: "Will Metrolinx be funding 100 percent of the capital cost?" The answer was very simple: "That is our (Metrolinx) model." That was a clear yes to me.
Ferguson notes that Hamilton still does not have a clear idea how much the City would have to contribute.
We are trying to get to a 30 percent design so we can put together a scientific budget to know what it will cost. Until we do that part of the puzzle, it means we are only guessing on costs.
Glanbrook Councillor Brenda Johnson calls the unknown cost to Hamilton taxpayers the "million dollar question" but believes Hamilton should be treated the same as other municipalities. In an email to RTH, Johnson wrote:
I believe Hamilton should be treated the same as our neighbouring communities. I don't understand the why one municipality would be treated from others when the end goal is the same.
RTH contacted the City's Rapid Transit planning staff for clarification on what Metrolinx has been saying about the funding model, and whether that communication has changed recently. As of this writing, RTH has not received a response.
Currently, no one seems willing or able to specify how much Hamilton would have to pay toward the total. RTH asked Mayor Bratina whether Minister Chiarelli had provided any specific amount or percentage of the construction cost that Hamilton would have to pay. As of this writing, Bratina has not responded.
RTH also contacted the Ontario Ministry of Transport (MTO) for clarification on what Hamilton would be required to contribute to the B-Line.
Bob Nichols, Senior Media Liaison Officer for the MTO, acknowledged that the mandate for Metrolinx under the 2006 Metrolinx Act is to "coordinate, plan, finance and implement an integrated multi-modal transportation network in the GTHA" and added that "partner contributions" for given projects are "determined on a case-by-case basis."
Nichols pointed out that the Brampton Zum Bus Rapid Transit, Mississauga Bus Rapid Transitway, Waterloo Region LRT and Ottawa LRT projects include some municipal funding. The Waterloo and Ottawa LRT projects are outside the Metrolinx mandate area and predate its establishment in 2006.
In contrast, the the Province is funding and will operate the $6 billion Eglinton-Scarborough Crosstown LRT. RTH asked Metrolinx and the Ministry of Transportation whether Toronto is contributing any capital funding toward that line, which is already under construction.
So far, it has not been possible to get a straight answer to this question from Metrolinx and the MTO.
After repeated back-and-forth emails, Nichols wrote, "The Province is the primary funding source for the projects and will retain ownership and control." He would not comment on whether Toronto is contributing anything, merely writing, "We don't have anything further to offer."
Similarly, Malon Edwards, a media relations and issues specialist at Metrolinx, would not definitely state whether Toronto is contributing any capital. He wrote, "We need all levels of government, including municipalities, to be active participants in funding solutions" and added that it would be "premature to suggest how future projects will be funded."
However, Toronto Councillor Karen Stintz, who is also the TTC Chair, confirmed that Toronto is not paying any of the capital cost for the Crosstown LRT, though maintenance agreements are still under negotiations.
Metrolinx was established with $18.5 billion in Provincial and Federal capital. The Metrolinx Regional Transportation Plan, titled The Big Move, outlines $50 billion in projects to be completed over a 25-year period.
Ultimately, the long-term Metrolinx funding picture will depend on an Investment Strategy to pay for the remainder of the projects. Edwards wrote:
Metrolinx is working on an Investment Strategy to support long-term sustainable investments that will allow us to continue investment in our transportation system, including transportation infrastructure projects identified in The Big Move. We continue to work with our municipal partners and other stakeholders from across the GTHA to inform how this strategy will take shape.
The investment strategy will have to come up with ways to generate enough revenue to pay for the badly-needed investments in transit across the GTHA. Potential sources of revenue include a gas tax, highway tolls, congestion tolls, parking levy, sales tax, income tax, or vehicle registration levy.
Any of these is politically risky, though The Big Move acknowledges that we are making up for "a generation of under-investment" in transit infrastructure that is costing the region in slower productivity growth due to worsening traffic congestion.
The Strategy is due next June, after which Metrolinx has said it will be able to make decisions on proposed transit projects, including Hamilton's B-Line.
The B-Line was included in The Big Move as one of the top transit priorities within the first 15 years, reflecting a September 2007 Liberal campaign promise that read in part:
In Hamilton, the Conservatives would put rapid transit projects through MoveOntario 2020 - including two light rail lines across Hamilton - at risk.
The second LRT, a north-south A-Line, is in an early stage of development.
Council approved the municipal feasibility study for the B-Line in 2008, and Metrolinx published its provincial Benefits Case Analysis in early 2010, finding that LRT would deliver a large net benefit to the city.
Staff are currently locating a maintenance and storage facility and completing a phasing study to determine the most cost-effective construction plan, a firm capital and operating cost determination, and a cost-benefit analysis on not building LRT.
Update: updated to include a response from TTC Chair Karen Stintz. You can jump to the added paragraph.