Special Report: Light Rail

Councillor Brenda Johnson Wrong to Break LRT Support Promise

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.

Nicholas Kevlahan was born and raised in Vancouver, and then spent eight years in England and France before returning to Canada in 1998. He has been a Hamiltonian since then, and is a strong believer in the potential of this city. Although he spends most of his time as a mathematician, he is also a passionate amateur urbanist and a fan of good design. You can often spot him strolling the streets of the downtown, shopping at the Market. Nicholas is the spokesperson for Hamilton Light Rail.

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By fmurray (registered) | Posted October 19, 2016 at 18:44:23

I agree with everything in this article. Usually I find Brenda Johnson has good substance in her stand on various issues, although I often disagree with her. (And especially disagreed with her putting it to her residents to decide on the fate of Trans Cab for Binbrook.) However, her stated reasons for voting against this critical project for Hamilton, were weak. I suspect she is receiving pressure from residents and has decided to take the easy road instead of standing for what is best for the city.

Question: Is the revenue from red light cameras also supposed to go to transit?

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted October 19, 2016 at 19:36:21 in reply to Comment 120294

My understanding is that the money from the Red Light Camera fund goes to road safety improvements.

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted October 19, 2016 at 20:15:23

We'll probably see more of this in the coming days now that we know the LRT cannot be turned around without a 2/3 majority - a majority that will never be achieved. There is a gold mine of risk-free political capital out there and the time to get it is now.

Clr Johnson can safely say she cannot support LRT because she knows it is inevitable. The posturing will please an obviously vocal group of voters in her ward. Same with Clr Collins. Now he's playing the good guy saying he will no longer oppose the LRT knowing full well his opposition is meaningless anyway. This, he hopes, will endear him to voters he may have lost while being stridently against it.

Can't wait to hear Clr Whitehead's next move.

Comment edited by ergopepsi on 2016-10-19 20:16:28

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By bobby2 (registered) | Posted October 23, 2016 at 09:50:05

This LRT project is destined to be one massive money pit for Ontario taxpayers and Hamilton property tax payers not to mention all the proposed route businesses that will be ruined during years of construction! Do you really think the Province is going to cover operational & maintenance costs?? Property taxes will skyrocket so McMaster students that are mostly non-Hamiltonians can get from school to downtown. Not one single construction quote has been rendered, no one know what lies underneath the ground of a 100 year plus City that needs replacement and if it goes over budget, which it will by a large amount, project gets scaled back or wait for it " City pays the over run if project is not scaled back"! That is property taxes! The only project that makes sense for a City like Hamilton is an enhanced Rapid Bus Service where routes can be changed dependant on demand, stops are closer together, all of the City could benefit & it wouldn't take years & years like LRT & it would be cheaper!

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted October 23, 2016 at 11:32:25 in reply to Comment 120304

Just about everything you've written here is wrong.

This LRT project is destined to be one massive money pit for Ontario taxpayers and Hamilton property tax payers

There is absolutely no reason to believe this project will go over budget. Other similar LRT projects in Ontario, including the Eglinton Crosstown in Toronto and the ION in Waterloo Region, are already proceeding on budget, and they are both larger and more complex than the Hamilton LRT.

not to mention all the proposed route businesses that will be ruined during years of construction!

The route is not proposed, it is finalized, and it is extremely unlikely that any viable businesses which undertake adequate preparations will fail to survive the construction period. In addition, construction is most likely to be phased (the 13 km project is being spread over five years) so that each segment of the route will only be closed for a relatively short time.

During Waterloo Region LRT construction, just three our four retail businesses have closed, and they were already moribund before construction started. Meanwhile, over 20 new retail businesses have opened, and several large, multi-storey buildings are under construction.

Do you really think the Province is going to cover operational & maintenance costs??

As per the Memorandum of Agreement between the City and Metrolinx, the operational revenue and cost sharing arrangement is being negotiated. Metrolinx is highly motivated to make this project succeed, and they are negotiating terms that will be palatable to the city. Under that same Agreement, the maintenance and lifecycle costs will be covered by Metrolinx.

Property taxes will skyrocket so McMaster students that are mostly non-Hamiltonians can get from school to downtown.

Property taxes will only go up if the properties become more valuable, and they will only become more valuable if LRT succeeds in attracting more investment, more development, more residents and more busineses. That, in turn, will provide more housing supply, more job opportunities and more access to services and amenities for people already living near the line, in addition to new residents who move into the redeveloped properties that are currently sitting derelict.

Also, it is chauvinistic to decide that a group of people who have chosen to live in Hamilton for four years are more are "non-Hamiltonians" just because they are university students. It benefits Hamilton when students living here are more integrated into the local economy and culture.

Not one single construction quote has been rendered,

That's because the project is still undergoing the Environmental Assessment amendment process and the revised 30 percent engineering and detailed design work that needs to be completed before Metrolinx puts out a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) to establish a shortlist of bidders who can then submit a bid to build the project.

no one know what lies underneath the ground of a 100 year plus City that needs replacement

Engineers are currently examining the underground infrastructure so they will be able to make an informed estimate of what they are dealing with.

Incidentally, this infrastructure replacement means approximately $80 million of necessary municipal infrastructure replacement will be covered by the province so the cost doesn't have to be covered by the local property tax base.

and if it goes over budget, which it will by a large amount,

You keep making this claim and it is entirely without basis. Other LRT projects in Ontario that are more complex than Hamilton's LRT are being constructed on budget.

project gets scaled back or wait for it " City pays the over run if project is not scaled back"!

Do you have a source for that quote or are you just making this statement up and putting quotes around it to make it seem more legitimate?

The only project that makes sense for a City like Hamilton is an enhanced Rapid Bus Service

Rapid Bus Service runs on dedicated lanes that serve express stations where passengers pre-pay so boarding is faster. The road still needs to be reconstructed and the transit lanes surfaced in concrete to handle the weight of a fleet of rapid buses, so there is still a large capital cost and a disruptive construction phase.

The major cost difference between bus rapid transit and light rail transit is that rapid buses are somewhat cheaper to build (lower capital cost) but more expensive to operate. That is because the main operating cost is paying operator wages, and one LRT vehicle can carry two or three times as many passengers as a bus, so you need more buses and more drivers to carry the same number of passengers as an LRT system.

where routes can be changed dependant on demand, stops are closer together,

That is not rapid bus service, it's just regular bus service, which we have today, and which is operating over-capacity along the LRT route with jam-packed buses and frequent pass-bys. The next level up from the current system is rapid transit on dedicated lanes, and as I explained above, LRT makes more sense than BRT along the B-Line route.

all of the City could benefit

All of the city will benefit from LRT.

  • LRT frees up buses to build service levels on other city routes, especially the next-phase rapid transit lines that serve the mountain and suburbs but currently have lower service levels and lower ridership than the B-Line.

  • The LRT construction also means around $80 million in municipal infrastructure will be replaced at Provincial expense, freeing up money to invest in new infrastructure across the city.

  • LRT is vastly better at attracting new development, new investment and new residents/businesses around the line. That means more ratepayers and more municipal tax revenue without having to build expensive, low-density suburban infrastructure (all those miles and miles of roads, water and sewer lines, police, EMS and waste collection services for single-family dwellings are extremely expensive to build and maintain).

  • This line is just the first phase of a long-term plan to build out a citywide rapid transit network. You have to start somewhere, and the phase one route is by far the best route in terms of existing transit demand, ridership growth potential and economic uplift.

You are not reasoning from any actual evidence. You are merely extrapolating from cynicism and an unsupported presumption that this project will fail.

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By bobby2 (registered) | Posted October 23, 2016 at 13:53:53 in reply to Comment 120306

"No reason for it to go over budget?" Obviously you chose to ignore E-Health, Orange,cancelled gas plant costs estimated by Liberals & off by almost $1B, Pan Am Game budget constantly increased so in end showed under budget & Execs received huge bonuses for under budget. Liberal's have a horrible track record for estimating costs or tracking project budgets! Figures lie and liars figure! Not a single construction quote rendered, what could go wrong with a Liberal estimate of $1B? Hope it wasn't written on a napkin during lunch?

  • If you believe Waterloo-Kitchener-Cambridge businesses are happy with construction, you must be only reading Liberal Weekly News Letters:) Plus, this line is totally different, it actually connects three communities.

-Operational & Maintenance Liabilities(who pays what) not decided! If you were in private business, would you give full approval go ahead without knowing your ongoing never ending costs? Oh ya,you mentioned Metrolinx & Liberal's say, "just trust us"

  • I'm in a bit of a hurry, so last item I'll address is McMaster students. I'm led to believe, once the twice daily student rush is over, ridership drastically falls. In fact, people surmise the vast number of riders during the two rush periods are students. Are you aware McMaster students depending on their program pay ONLY $138.65 or $182.70 for an annual (12 months) HRS pass to use bus service unlimited! No wonder Hamilton Property taxpayers pay to subsidize HRS as students are virtually free ride. Who is going to pay an actual LRT fare? Several studies state Hamilton is no where near a paying ridership to support LRT & won't be for many years.

-Afraid we will have to agree to disagree, you believe LRT is the savior of Hamilton, I believe it's a money pit legacy our kids & grandkids will pay for many, many years. I guess, in about 7 or more years we will find out who is right?

Comment edited by bobby2 on 2016-10-23 14:19:47

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted October 23, 2016 at 15:20:52 in reply to Comment 120307

You live nowhere near King St do you?

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By bobby2 (registered) | Posted October 23, 2016 at 15:48:11 in reply to Comment 120308

No, I live no where near King but I have two daughters & four grandkids that also live in Hamilton & will get stuck with this white elephant! At one point, I also voted Liberal, trusted Liberal, however, over their three terms learned that they, lie, mislead, enhance the bank accounts of loyal friends, only care about legacy for themselves & are firm believers that no tax, no fee is ever too much for Ontario citizens. Our Mayor drank their cool-aid, some Councillor's who's Wards directly gain $1B benefit love LRT & the rest of Hamilton & also Ontario taxpayers will simply pay for it! Just remember, the $1B the Liberal's are promising isn't their money, not one cent of it, it's our money they are giving away for a transit philosophy they cherish !

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted October 23, 2016 at 17:42:22 in reply to Comment 120310

Yes, politicians are hard to trust. The most egregious example in Canadian history was Brian Mulroney accepting envelopes stuffed with cash from an arms dealer in hotel rooms in Montreal and New York. Why anyone would put all of their stock in any political party is beyond me.

As far as LRT goes I think it is a good investment. Infrastructure spending is known to boost economies in any region. It is a common tool for this purpose. If you were running a business would you never re-invest in it? Or borrow to improve the future outlook?

Don't forget also that this is just step one in a larger transit plan for Hamilton. The next on deck would be the A-line running up the mountain. You've got to start somewhere and the B-line which is currently running over capacity is it.

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