It's embarrassing that it seems the only way my city is going to see transit improve is when the province comes along offering to foot 100 percent of the bill, a sweetheart deal other cities envy.
By Michael Nabert
Published June 20, 2016
Many in Hamilton shake their heads at the idea that our City Council, after voting in favour of LRT repeatedly for years, is now stalled by grandstanding against it.
It is perfectly reasonable to have questions about why the route was chosen or concerns about the temporary disruption that will accompany construction, but when one looks at the arguments arrayed against LRT, the only conclusion is that they are spectacularly weak.
"We should spend it on something else!" and "We can't afford it!" are clearly dishonest.
Brampton recently said no to funding for LRT. Did the province tell them, "oh, that's okay, here's the money we would have spent on LRT for you to spend on whatever else you like?" No, what Brampton got was sent to the back of the line with hat in hand and no major provincial investment.
Did their taxes go down by a single dollar? No, they're still contributing to the provincial coffers, they simply get to sit on the sidelines while watching those dollars invested in other communities.
Still, in the spirit of inclusive open-mindedness, I invite those lingering few Hamiltonians that oppose the construction of our LRT system to try and convince me to come around to their point of view by answering three simple questions:
I challenge anyone to explain any way that no investment in Hamilton can be better for us than a massive improvement project. Mention job creation, and opponents say that those jobs will only be temporary. Even if so, would creating thousands of jobs in the city for five years be superior to zero new jobs?
Spend a billion dollars in the city, there's pretty much no way that you won't create some benefit to the city's economy or citizens - even if by accident.
If you oppose LRT, you can't merely spout the claim that work on a single roadway downtown will somehow collapse the entire local economy. You need to fill us in on how keeping this much investment away from the city provides us with any good of any kind at all.
When construction began on the Lincoln Alexander Parkway, citizens understood that something that is good for the city is indirectly good for me, too, even if we don't use it ourselves.
If we don't have children, our taxes still fund local schools because it's valuable to live in a place where people have skills and know things.
I don't personally own a car, but my taxes support road work, and I know it's important that goods and people can get around the city.
It is only when LRT comes up that people imagine the claim, It won't help me personally, therefore I oppose it even if it helps other people is somehow a credible or adult argument.
If the city is going to thrive, it must be with an eye to the needs of everyone, not to the whims of the purely selfish. Would anyone really prefer to have the disruption downtown that's inevitable to repair and replace aging infrastructure happen entirely on our dime with nothing else to show for it?
Transportation represents more than one-third of Ontario's greenhouse gas emissions. Moving away from single occupancy vehicle use to higher use rates for public transit is near the top of every list of ways that communities can start addressing what is generally agreed to be the largest danger we face as a civilization.
When it comes to making real action on climate change a priority, I refuse investment in public transit! is tantamount to saying, Here, let me spray some more lighter fluid on the pyre of our children's hope for the future.
Bus rapid transit (BRT) is less energy efficient per rider - and again, even if it weren't, if Hamilton insisted we wanted BRT instead, we'd just be watching the province invest in another community that doesn't look a gift horse in the mouth.
It's bad enough that Hamilton - alone among major urban centres in the province - is spending four times as much building roads as it does improving transit. Adjusted for inflation, council's commitment to funding HSR has been steadily shrinking for years, which may contribute to the fact that ridership per capita is declining here while skyrocketing elsewhere.
Frankly, it's embarrassing that it seems the only way my city is going to see transit improve is when the province comes along offering to foot 100 percent of the bill, a sweetheart deal other cities envy.
If you oppose transit improving even at provincial expense, don't hold any illusions about the fact that you are cheerleading to make climate change worse.
Ultimately, the problems in Hamilton that this issue brings to light run deeper even than the above. The dysfunctional area rating system that has households on one side of the street paying a third as much for transit as those on the other side of the street across ward boundaries does a lot to hamstring any effort to improve.
Transit support is poor for the suburban areas of the city, but improvements there are largely impossible because residents of those wards would have to pay the whole tab themselves. Meanwhile, their councillors hold transit efforts downtown hostage by voting against improvements to a system that their constituents pay little or nothing of the bill for and where therefore they have no 'skin in the game.'
Hamilton remains the only city in the province where different parts of what should be a unified city are pitted against one another on transit issues persistently rather than all sharing the costs and benefits.
So all I can do is hope that sanity wins despite the despicable grandstanding against it, and my municipal government does the right thing about what should clearly be seen as a no-brainer. Meanwhile, for those reading this who oppose LRT, I'll be waiting to read substantive, logical, polite, and reasonable answers to the above questions. Convince me.
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