Raise the Hammer reviews the mayoral candidates' various positions on the City's Rapid Ready LRT plan.
By Ryan McGreal
Published October 21, 2014
Raise the Hammer sent a list of policy questions to all the candidates for Mayor and City Council. This week, Raise the Hammer reviews the mayoral candidates' positions on the policy issues in advance of the municipal election on Monday, October 27.
In 2007, the Province announced a regional transportation plan that included two light rail transit (LRT) lines in Hamilton: one running east-west across the lower city and one running north-south between the waterfront and the airport. In 2008, Hamilton city staff undertook a rapid transit feasibility study that found a strong case for proceeding with an LRT plan combined with broad public support.
Rendering of proposed LRT in Hamilton
In February 2013, City Council approved a plan to build a 14 kilometre LRT line between McMaster University and Eastgate Square as part of a comprehensive improvement to city-wide transit. The plan, detailed in the Rapid Ready report, was submitted to the Province with a request for full capital funding.
Due to a combination of factors, including a Provincial government with a minority of seats in the Ontario Legislature that did not have an approved funding strategy and a Hamilton mayor who was busy undermining the LRT plan even though he voted for it, the Province punted on approving the plan and making a funding decision.
Much politicking ensued. In the June 2014 provincial election, the Liberal Party confirmed that it would provide 100 percent capital funding for "rapid transit" in Hamilton but would not specify whether they meant LRT or a bus rapid transit (BRT) system running articulated buses on dedicated lanes.
The Liberal candidates for Hamilton Mountain and Hamilton East-Stoney Creek campaigned on their preference for a cheaper alternative of adding express bus routes, which Liberal spokespeople said did not reflect Liberal policy. Both candidates lost to NDP candidates who support LRT.
Meanwhile, Premier Kathleen Wynne, then-Transportation Minister Glen Murray and local MPP Ted McMeekin were claiming they still needed to hear from Hamilton whether it wanted LRT or BRT - despite the fact that the City had submitted its LRT plan a year earlier.
After the Liberals won a majority, newly-appointed Transport Minister Steven Del Duca held a private meeting with Hamilton Mayor Bob Bratina and a few members of council to discuss the city's rapid transit plan.
Transport Minister Steven Del Duca talking to reporters after his July 25, 2014 meeting with Mayor Bratina (RTH file photo)
The meeting ended up without a definitive answer, but Del Duca at least acknowledged that the Province has received Hamilton's LRT plan and that the system that is approved "may very well be LRT."
It seems clear that the Province is waiting for the outcome of next Monday's municipal election before it decides how to proceed. In this regard, Hamilton voters have some very clear, distinct choices in who they elect as Hamilton's next mayor.
You can read all the candidates' responses to the question: Do you support the city's plan to build an east-west light rail transit (LRT) line with full capital funding from the Province?
Of the "big three" mayoral candidates, Brian McHattie was the only one who responded to the RTH policy questions. He reaffirmed his unambiguous support for the city's LRT plan:
Yes I support fully our LRT plan as described in the Rapid Ready Report.
McHattie has been an early and consistent champion for LRT. Earlier this year, in an attempt to work around Mayor Bratina's obstruction on the LRT file, McHattie wrote a letter to Premier Wynne reaffirming Council's support for LRT after Wynne was quoted saying she did not know Hamilton's position on rapid transit.
Brad Clark has not responded to the RTH policy questions (or, indeed, to any requests for comment from RTH during the election), but in other public comments he has stated that he opposes the LRT plan, even though he voted consistently to support it as a City Councillor.
He claims that he changed his mind due to "new information" in a study by McMaster University geography PhD student Chris Higgins, but the study contains no information that Council did not already see, as Higgins himself has repeatedly clarified.
Clark also claims falsely that the east-west line does not have enough ridership to support LRT.
At 13,000 rides a day according to the 2010 HSR Operational Review, LRT on the B-Line would be in the middle of the pack for North American LRT systems on opening day, with huge potential for rapid increases in ridership given how overburdened the B-Line bus system is currently.
Instead of LRT, Clark wants to add more buses to the city's existing express bus service, which he persists in calling BRT even though it is not bus rapid transit by any reasonable definition.
Fred Eisenberger has not responded to the RTH policy question. However, he has stated that he personally supports the city's LRT plan but believes the city needs to "hit the reset button" by establishing a citizen panel to review the evidence and studies to date and make a recommendation. Eisenberger says he believes the panel will recommend approving the LRT plan.
The City already had a citizen panel - the Rapid Transit Citizen Advisory Committee - which reviewed the studies and made recommendations to staff on developing the LRT plan. It is not clear what benefit would come from repeating this process.
Michael Baldasaro opposes the Rapid Ready plan. Instead, he wants to build an "LRT-loop" that runs north on Bay to the GO Station on James North and south on James to the GO Station on Hunter Street.
Crystal Lavigne opposes LRT. She supports increased bus service and "would like to install a gondola system extending from the mountain to the lower part of our city in the central/east end."
Michael A. Pattison supports the LRT plan conditionally while raising concerns about whether population density and ridership allow for LRT to run in a "sustainable or better yet profitable" manner.
We have not received responses from Ejaz Butt, Mike Clancy, Warrand Francis, Phil Ryerson or Ricky Tavares. Nick Iamonico has no contact information and so we were not able to send him the question.
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