Special Report: Light Rail

What Does Hamilton Know that Waterloo Region Does Not?

The Province offers to pay the capital cost for a transportation investment that will concentrate new development within the already built-up area and increase the city's property tax revenue per unit of area.

By Ryan McGreal
Published February 10, 2015

this article has been updated

There is an urban express transit corridor running through the middle of a large, diverse municipality of over half a million residents, comprising multiple downtowns and a variety of local interests.

The region is characterized by under-performing urbanized areas, extensive suburbs and a large rural area, comprising some of the best farmland in Ontario.

Ridership on the urban transit corridor has been growing steadily for years and now sits at around 20,000 rides per day - almost half the total ridership for the entire system.

Some years ago, the local government started planning and design work on a light rail transit (LRT) system for the corridor. The LRT system as planned will cost over $800 million to build, a large and frightening number.

However, the goals of this investment are to shape new development around the line, increase the density of the already-urbanized area and the productivity of already-existing infrastructure, reduce pressure to keep expanding suburban sprawl into the rural area, and reduce the need to spend money on new expensive suburban infrastructure - roads, water and sewer systems to service a far-flung, low-density population.

The planners determined that, despite the high price tag, it would ultimately cost the government less to invest in LRT than it would cost to continue with the status quo of suburban sprawl across the farmland.

Waterloo and Hamilton

I could be talking about the amalgamated City of Hamilton, of course, but in this case I'm talking about Waterloo Region. Here is how the two cities compare by the numbers:

Population, Area, Ridership, Hamilton and Waterloo
Hamilton Waterloo
* The Province increased Waterloo Region's 2031 population projection based in part on completion of the LRT system.
Population - 2011 520,000 507,096
Population - 2031 683,000 742,000 *
Area 1,117 1,369
Urban Area 231 202
Total Annual Ridership 21,000,000 22,000,000
Daily Ridership - LRT Corridor 20,000 20,000
Bus Fleet 221 251
Total Service Hours 650,000 640,000
LRT Capital Cost $811 million $818 million

Hamilton's LRT plan has been drifting along since early 2013, when Council approved it and then dismantled the city's Rapid Transit Office.

Waterloo's LRT system was approved in 2011 and is scheduled to open for operation in 2017.

Are you squirming yet?

Backpedaling

In Hamilton, our capricious local government has recently been backpedaling away from investment in higher-order transit along our B-Line corridor, just two years after Council unanimously approved an LRT plan.

One of the excuses, onto which some councillors have latched the way a drowning man latches onto a nearby piece of flotsam, is that our current ridership numbers are not already at a level that makes rapid transit necessary just to meet existing demand.

But Waterloo's ridership numbers are the same as Hamilton's. In fact, Waterloo has been growing its transit ridership rapidly over the past decade or so as it prepares to launch its LRT system. Since 2000, when regional transit was amalgamated under the Grand River Transit (GRT) umbrella, annual ridership has doubled from 10 million to 20 million.

Waterloo's local government is taking the lead in designing, planning and investing for the ridership they want, instead of reacting to the ridership they have.

In fact, if Waterloo had sat back and just planned for the ridership they had instead of being proacive, the system would likely still be stagnating in the vicinity of 10 million rides a year.

Amazingly for anyone in Hamilton who is paying attention, all of this is despite the fact that Waterloo's LRT capital funding strategy, negotiated outside the envelope of the Metrolinx funding model for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, requires the local government to contribute $253 million, or 31 percent of the total cost.

For LRT in Hamilton, the Province has already agreed to pay 100 percent of the capital cost.

Shape City Growth

Waterloo is not alone in choosing to invest in LRT before the existing bus system crushes its lower-order transit capacity. According to Hamilton's Rapid Ready LRT plan, which our Council approved unanimously in February 2013:

A comparison of the proposed B-Line LRT with other systems in Canada and the United States showed that system performance as it relates to ridership would be mid-range as compared to the other successful LRT systems on opening day and be one of the top-performing systems in 2031. [emphasis added]

Are all these other cities crazy to build LRT before their bus systems are maxed out?

Maybe not. Waterloo is investing in LRT primarily to direct new developments into the existing build-up area and make more cost-effective use of the infrastructure that already exists. As their Rapid Transit project explains:

Without ION, the Region would need to build 500 new land kilometres of roads over the next 20 years to accommodate expected growth. These new roads - the equivalent of 25 [seven-lane arterials] - would cost approximately $1.4 billion and would need to be built through existing neighbourhoods.

The reason large Canadian cities like Hamilton are in an infrastructure deficit crisis is that they have spent the past several decades growing via the kind of low-density suburban buildout that costs more to build and maintain than it will ever generate in development charges and property tax revenues.

Cost of Not Building LRT

Waterloo Region planning staff have calculated that each one-percent mode shift away from driving trips to walking, cycling or transit will save the region $30 million in infrastructure costs. As far as I can tell, no one at the City of Hamilton has made such a calculation here.

Likewise, no one at the City of Hamilton has calculated the cost of not investing in LRT. For a city whose local leaders are driven by fear more than vision, we don't know how much it will cost us to abandon LRT and keep doing what we've been doing.

What we do know is that the city's unfunded infrastructure lifecycle deficit increases by $195 million a year and currently stands at a staggering $3 billion, out of a total infrastructure value of around $15 billion. Every year, our roads lifecycle deficit alone increases by $110 million or more than half the total deficit.

Each lane-kilometre of roadway costs $10,000 a year just to maintain, so a four-lane road costs $40,000 per kilometre per year.

The Province offers to pay 100 percent of the capital cost for a transportation investment that will concentrate new development within the already built-up area, increasing the city's property tax revenue per unit of area without having to build expensive new roads we can't afford.

What Councillor in their right mind would even consider turning this down? Could they actually not understand what is at stake?

Why, then, did they vote unanimously to approve Rapid Ready just two years ago? Have they forgotten why they voted for it? Nothing has changed since then - except that the Province has signaled more clearly that they will pay the full capital cost if Hamilton can get its act together.

Can we? Can we get our act together? Council? Is anyone listening?


Update: here is yet another transportation comparison between Hamilton and Waterloo Region, courtesy of this Statistics Canada table:

Proportion of commuters by mode, 2011
Census metropolitan area Car, truck or van (total) Car, truck or van (driver) Car, truck or van (passenger) Public transit Walking Bicycle
Hamilton 84.4 77.8 6.7 9.3 4.5 0.7
Kitchener - Cambridge - Waterloo 88.2 81.4 6.7 5.4 4.3 1.1

h/t to the RTH reader who sent this in.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.

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By kdslote (registered) | Posted February 10, 2015 at 14:53:38

Spot on! Thank you!! I've also heard rumblings that some councillors plan to use the lack of ridership argument to justify turning down LRT. Clearly not a sound argument!!!! Thanks for setting the record straight...hopefully this doesn't fall on deaf ears!

Comment edited by kdslote on 2015-02-10 14:54:10

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By Cultosaurus (registered) | Posted February 10, 2015 at 15:09:57

The councillors voting this down just want to keep their jobs, because they will be royally screwed if they don't. They voted for Rapid Ready because they thought it would secure their jobs and now they think opposing it will do the same.

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By Spelling B (anonymous) | Posted February 10, 2015 at 15:11:16

But we are completely different cities. Hamilton starts with an "H" and Waterloo start with a "W".

That would never work here.

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By Nextsteps (anonymous) | Posted February 10, 2015 at 15:14:14

Dear RTH writers and supporters, do you not think that the LRT scandal is well known and understood by most reasonable thinking Hamiltonians? If the information and evidence didn't make a difference by now it never will, and for those who can't understand what a five year old could in terms of what is clearly good for our city are frankly hopeless in my mind. To that end, don't you feel that our collective efforts are effectively slactivist? Don't you think we need to take it to the next level. Don't you feel we need to mobilize, organize, engage in civil disobedience, etc. The transit union is a good start. How do we build on that?

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted February 10, 2015 at 19:46:38 in reply to Comment 108968

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted February 10, 2015 at 19:05:10 in reply to Comment 108968

Right. Action. You suggested it. Lead the way.

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By 2ndthat (anonymous) | Posted February 10, 2015 at 15:14:53 in reply to Comment 108968

In other words, actions, not words.

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By LOL@LOL (anonymous) | Posted February 10, 2015 at 16:01:59

I can't wait for LOL_all_over_again to drop in and explain all the ways Hamilton and Waterloo are nothing alike, totally different popul- um, total ar- um, urban ar- um, ridersh- um, climat- um, cultu- um.....ooh! Something about the escarpment.

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted February 10, 2015 at 16:23:02

Annual Ridership

GRT
1999: 9.4 million
-
2011: 19.7 million
2012: 21.3 million
2013: 22.0 million

HSR
1999: 19.6 million
-
2011: 21.9 million
2012: 21.8 million
2013: 21.8 million

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted February 11, 2015 at 11:39:41 in reply to Comment 108972

Annual Ridership

GRT
1999: 9.4 million
-
2006: 13.7 million
2007: 14.4 million
2008: 15.8 million
2009: 16.6 million
2010: 18.0 million
2011: 19.7 million
2012: 21.3 million
2013: 22.0 million

HSR
1999: 19.6 million
2000: 20.1 million
2001: 20.7 million
2002: 20.4 million
2003: 20.3 million
2004: 20.6 million
2005: 20.9 million
2006: 21.2 million
2007: 21.1 million
2008: 20.9 million
2009: 20.7 million
2010: 21.2 million
2011: 21.9 million
2012: 21.8 million
2013: 21.8 million

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted February 10, 2015 at 19:12:44 in reply to Comment 108972

Interesting numbers! I am curious about the plateau and small decrease after 2011.

Some of the busiest routes literally don't have any more room for riders. The stagnation and indifference is obvious. The disconnection from and indifference to multiple demographics within the city, is also obvious.

In addition to these things, I wonder to what extent the plateau in numbers reflects riders who tried to take the bus, and found alternatives after it drove by.

If any of the councilors volunteered to take the bus to city hall for a week from wherever their home may be, as a gesture of seeing through the shoes of their fellow citizens whom they set policy for, perhaps even having fun with it, talking to people, hearing them out. It would be a massive indicator that the political health of the city had bottomed and was recovering. The respect earned for having the humility and realness to do that would be massive. A king going for a walk with his subjects. Who'd imagine. But those that do, have the happiest places.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted February 10, 2015 at 19:06:09 in reply to Comment 108972

Wow. This is telling.

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted February 10, 2015 at 17:01:13 in reply to Comment 108972

GRT
2,724 bus stops. 456 (16.7%) equipped w/shelters

HSR
2,100 bus stops, 557 (26.5%) equipped w/shelters

grt.ca/en/aboutus/fastfacts.asp
hamilton.ca/NR/rdonlyres/A05B12E8-B8FA-4A05-8775-16270AAC8A92/0/Feb04EDRMS_n405003_v1_8_2_PW13005.pdf

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By Core-B (registered) | Posted February 10, 2015 at 16:45:15

Yet another excellent article Ryan. I directed this to all of my Hamilton friends who don't frequent this site. I encourage others to do the same.

Comment edited by Core-B on 2015-02-10 16:45:35

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 10, 2015 at 18:11:32

What city in it's right mind would proceed with city building not according to "internationally recognized best practices"......

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted February 10, 2015 at 19:52:11 in reply to Comment 108982

How about all of Hamilton's crappy bike infrastructure that violates the CROW engineering design manual for bicycle traffic?

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By RobF (registered) | Posted February 10, 2015 at 18:22:40

That pretty much sums it up. Stagnation on transit unless council decides to start rowing as team in the same direction on things like a ridership growth strategy and LRT. I still don't understand how they think all this intensification is going to happen without investing in transit ...

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By Cultosaurus (registered) | Posted February 10, 2015 at 18:26:59 in reply to Comment 108983

Most of them don't want intensification. The 20-25% of their ward that votes for them (and keeps them in a job) doesn't want intensification, they want wide streets and places to drive to.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted February 10, 2015 at 18:34:46 in reply to Comment 108984

Through. Places to drive through.

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted February 10, 2015 at 18:56:36

Maybe if we build the T-Line first we can make Whitehead happy since he won't think he's supporting downtown. Chad Collins might even support it since it won't take lanes away from Queenston Rd.

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By Queenston (anonymous) | Posted February 11, 2015 at 11:53:06 in reply to Comment 108989

Collins is being a dimwit. Businesses on Queenston will be fine. They can easily create an extra lane by scaling back the parking lots if necessary.

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 10, 2015 at 21:26:47

when one sees the operating costs to run LRT vs buses and considers the fact the province wants to pay the expensive part of LRT - the capital, it really helps explain why our voting turnout is so low, and why so many Hamiltonians truly believe that too many people in city hall work against the betterment of the city, not for it.

So we turn down an $800+ million investment from a higher level of government in order to maintain our bus-only transit system when everyone sees the budget numbers showing that 'employee expenses' account for over 50% of the HSR budget. A 340-450 passenger LRT vehicle (given to us for free) driven by one operator, or 8.5 buses (340 passenger capacity) driven by 8.5 operators paid for by the Hamilton tax payer. Most cities have a city hall looking to land outside investment and get more bang for the local taxpayer buck. Not here.

Comment edited by jason on 2015-02-10 21:27:32

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By DrAwesomesauce (registered) | Posted February 11, 2015 at 05:52:09 in reply to Comment 109000

An HSR agenda. I never looked at it that way but it makes sense.

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By LeeEdwardMcIlmoyle (registered) - website | Posted February 11, 2015 at 05:02:01

Thank you, Ryan. All good points.

I fear you're preaching to the choir, too. But I truly appreciate what you're saying.

Now, who wants to play with the crayons?

Sorry. I suspect I'm getting depressed thinking about what those distinguished ladies and gentlemen are planning (not) to do to our poor city. I'm exhausted, and they don't seem to care. This council is breaking my heart, and most Hamiltonians, who don't pay attention to local politics unless it does something they don't understand, will never read these articles you keep writing.

sigh

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By MissingPartOfTheStory (registered) | Posted February 11, 2015 at 09:21:55 in reply to Comment 109006

But why not move from complaining to action then instead of sighing?

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted February 11, 2015 at 15:11:29 in reply to Comment 109011

Why do you assume they haven't?

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By Payola (anonymous) | Posted February 11, 2015 at 09:37:07

But the suburbs only want service improvements if they don't have to pay for them.

It just doesn't work that way.........unless Merulla succeeds in having area rating for transit end. You know. Like everywhere else.

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By JM (registered) | Posted February 11, 2015 at 11:02:28

Great comparison!

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By Dylan (registered) | Posted February 11, 2015 at 19:44:15

I doubt there is data out there on this, but I'm willing to bet that there are significantly more people in Hamilton that use walkers or scouters, that use public transit as their primary means of transportation, than there are in Kitchener/Waterloo. This would make the accessible cars of LRT even more beneficial to our city than KW.

Comment edited by Dylan on 2015-02-11 19:45:07

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By Megan (registered) | Posted February 12, 2015 at 10:27:10

The City has looked at the cost of not implementing LRT.

Page 151 of the complete PW13014 report (which contains Rapid Ready) states: "Summed up the City of Hamilton should see a direct benefit of approximately $130M (reduction in backlog, building permits and tax benefits from development)."

http://www.hamilton.ca/NR/rdonlyres/76D3...

But the modal shift calculation would be interesting to see on top of this.

Comment edited by Megan on 2015-02-12 10:28:12

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 14, 2015 at 09:07:35

If anyone has time on your hands that you'd like to completely waste, the 5-year TMP review is up. Another great plan for council to do the opposite of for 5 more years.

https://twitter.com/JoeyColeman/status/5...

It's good to see that the city isn't going to waste a world-renowned urban-minded transportation firms time with this update. We've chosen a much better company who seems to specialize in suburban Upper James style streets:

http://coleengineering.ca/transportation...

The TMP document going to council talks about 'safe cycling facilities' and points to a narrow bike lane wedged in between parked cars and 6 lanes of traffic.
I'm sure the Steer Davies Gleave's of the world aren't too interested in coming back here for more planning exercises.

Comment edited by jason on 2015-02-14 09:44:40

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 14, 2015 at 10:03:13 in reply to Comment 109139

Their transit division is even better than the roads one:

http://coleengineering.ca/transportation...

Their 3 featured transit projects are all parking lots. These guys have a looooooong future in Hamilton if they want it.

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted February 14, 2015 at 10:57:03 in reply to Comment 109142

I was curious what the scope of their services is. Want a laugh? Click on What We Do in the top menu. Match made in heaven.

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 14, 2015 at 17:29:33

Fantastic piece in today's Globe and Mail on building 21st Century cities.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/toro...

Fantastic, unless you live in Hamilton where every point on this list is considered heresy by our city hall.

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By ttransporter (anonymous) | Posted February 15, 2015 at 13:00:26

People aren't in love with automobiles. People are in love with themselves. Automobiles are mobile monuments that people buy, the better to worship themselves wiith.

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By sortof (anonymous) | Posted February 15, 2015 at 15:02:47 in reply to Comment 109187

I half agree. People are in love with themselves and buy cars so they don't have to put up with other people and can get to places more efficiently on their own terms.

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 15, 2015 at 16:00:43 in reply to Comment 109188

will be interesting to see if these current cultural trends among the tech-savy Mellennials continues. They'd rather let someone else drive them so they can work or socialize on their mobile devices.

There will always be a decent demand for personal auto use, but we should make the other options as appealing as possible, not as horrid as possible.

Hamilton's leaders aren't leaders at all and have zero credentials making vital decisions that affect our future. They don't even understand things as simple and basic as this, and it's impacts on the tax-base and ever increasing infrastructure deficit.

I love the title: Basic Urban Math. In Hamilton we take away the one lane for all the transit riders and give it to 4 more single occupancy drivers....then the same geniuses at city hall who make these decisions whine and cry about our infrastructure deficit.

https://twitter.com/copenhagenize/status...

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By sortof (anonymous) | Posted February 15, 2015 at 16:57:26 in reply to Comment 109189

You are right. We will see. When self driving cars and trucks eliminate drivers, maybe there will be no buses or private ownership. See the youtube video Humans need not Apply.

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 15, 2015 at 23:03:40 in reply to Comment 109191

that still won't solve the problem of streets being clogged by single occupancy cars. We'll still need transit in a big way, just as much as today. More in fact, in cities that are growing.

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