Council already has two financial sources that it could tap to help improve local transit, and I look forward to Councillor Johnson championing these among her colleagues.
By Nicholas Kevlahan
Published October 19, 2016
I am disappointed with Ward 11 (Glanbrook) Councillor Brenda Johnson's recent decision to withdraw her support for Hamilton's provincially funded Light Rail Transit (LRT) project, which is currently in the implementation stage.
As a candidate in the last municipal election, Councillor Johnson promised to support LRT.
Breaking this promise should require a detailed explanation and be based on some serious negative developments that were not known in late 2014.
Johnson's statement doesn't give many details, but she points to the fact that the Province "only" gave the City $1 billion, not the additional $302 million for local transit improvements that was added to the funding request at the last minute.
Johnson's statement also expresses concern that various operational details are not yet decided and that we should improve HSR service in all parts of the city.
As the councillor is well aware, the LRT project has been developed since 2007 and was the subject of dozens of Council votes. Millions of dollars have been spent on design and consultation. Council repeatedly requested funding for this project.
The $302 million was a last-minute request with minimal preparation that was ineligible given the well-known funding guidelines for Metrolinx: regional transit and rapid transit.
Regarding Johnson's concern about operational details, the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) that Council (including Johnson) supported in January obligates Council:
... to proceed expeditiously, diligently and in good faith and in a co-operative and collaborative manner to ... expedite the construction and completion of the Project.
The system will not be in operation for another eight years, which provides plenty of time to work out operational details on revenue/cost sharing and staffing.
Negotiating in good faith on these issues is not consistent with withdrawing support because you don't already know the result!
I strongly support Johnson's stated goal of an improved HSR transit system throughout the city. This would reverse decades of cutbacks and underfunding by Council.
However, Council needs to act now to implement its ten year transit plan, using its own financial resources, to show its good faith that it really does consider better HSR to be a priority.
Fortunately, Council has two financial sources that it could tap to help improve the system, and I look forward to Councillor Johnson championing these among her colleagues:
1) Eliminate area rating for transit for urban areas. Hamilton is the only city in Ontario that has different transit rates for different urban areas. Removing area rating would provide a big boost in finances for HSR and would shift the politics on the issue by ensuring suburbs demand better service, rather than reject better service because they need to pay the whole cost of the improvement.
2) Start spending all of the federal gas tax money on transit like every other big city, rather than spending almost all of it on roads.
Hamilton has eight years to improve the HSR system before LRT operations begin, and it has the financial resources to make big improvements. But the City cannot expect the Province to finance its municipal bus service, especially since the Province has already agreed to the City's request to fund its LRT - an amount that equals 20 years of what the city spends on HSR!
I urge Councillor Johnson, as an environmentalist and a Hamiltonian, to continue supporting an environmentally sustainable rapid transit solution that will get people out of their cars and support a denser more sustainable urban form.
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