Special Report: Light Rail

Province Confirms A-Line Bus Rapid Transit

The Ontario Government has cancelled the two-kilometre Light Rail Transit (LRT) spur on James Street North in favour of a 16-kilometre Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system that will run between the waterfront and the airport.

By Ryan McGreal
Published February 02, 2017

The Ontario Government has cancelled the two-kilometre Light Rail Transit (LRT) spur on James Street North in favour of a 16-kilometre Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system that will run between the waterfront and the airport.

Ontario Transport Minister Steven Del Duca announces A-Line BRT
Ontario Transport Minister Steven Del Duca announces A-Line BRT

Ending weeks of rumours and speculation, Ontario Transport Minister Steven Del Duca made the announcement at a press conference this morning in the bus bay of Hunter GO Station.

The Minister announced, "I am very delighted today to be here to officially announce that the Province and Metrolinx will work with the City of Hamilton to move forward with the planning and analysis work for a 16-kilometre bus rapid transit line. This is a key component of both Metrolinx's Big Move and the City's Rapid Transit vision."

The event was attended by Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger and Councillors Jason Farr, Matthew Green and Aidan Johnson.

Planning Stage, Few Details

According to Del Duca, the decision was made in response to technical analysis which found that the two-kilometre LRT spur did not provide good value for money, plus feedback from community consultation calling for more direct transit benefit to a larger area of Hamilton.

He stated, "This community and stakeholders expressed a desire for enhanced rapid transit connections between the lower city and the mountain. And we also heard, loudly and clearly from many, that there is strong support for accelerating the implementation of the full A-Line."

The A-Line BRT is only starting the planning stage, and Del Duca would not provide any specifics in terms of what the technology will look like, what route it will follow or how much of the line will run on dedicated lanes.

To be considered full bus rapid transit, a bus system should run on dedicated lanes with signal priority. Passengers should pre-pay at stations for rapid boarding, and stations should be spaced to balance speed with accessibility.

The Minister also deferred the question of who will operate it or how it will be funded, noting that the project must still go through the planning and design phase.

He did confirm that the Province is still committed to the full $1 billion funding envelope for Hamilton rapid transit, and the money earmarked for the two-kilometre LRT spur will now go toward the cost of planning, designing and implementing the A-Line BRT.

He would not say whether the City would have to contribute some of the capital cost, but noted that there may be an opportunity to secure funding from the federal government.

A-Line BRT map
A-Line BRT map

RFQ for B-Line LRT

The B-Line LRT running between McMaster University and Queenston Traffic Circle is still on track, and the Province issued a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) today.

The purpose of an RFQ is to receive expressions of interest from consortia that wish to bid on the contract to finance, design, build, operate and maintain the LRT line.

Potential bidders will be evaluated on their technical and financial ability to deliver on the project, and a shortlist of approved parties from the RFQ will be invited to participate in a subsequent Request for Proposals (RFP) to win the contract itself.

The RFP will begin this summer, and a preferred bid will be announced in early 2018 for final design and construction to begin in late 2018.

Increased Gas Tax Transfer, Confederation GO Trains

In his prepared remarks, the Minster re-iterated the recent Provincial announcement that the gas tax transfer to municipalities will gradually double from 2019 to 2021.

He also announced that the Confederation GO Station will start receiving weekday GO Train service starting in 2021, with service extended to Niagara in 2023.


You can watch a video of Minister Del Duca's prepared remarks. The A-Line BRT announcement starts at the 4:47 mark:

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 and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted February 02, 2017 at 11:07:55

Considering that the James North spur-line was planned for mixed traffic, thinking there's approximately zero chance this will be true BRT. The province is going to buy us a few artics, plan an express bus, and call it good.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 02, 2017 at 11:17:08 in reply to Comment 120662

Depends on the route and on what they do on the mountain. Full BRT along Upper James certainly makes sense to me.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted February 02, 2017 at 13:16:10 in reply to Comment 120664

Whitehead and Skelly would never accept it without road-widening. Even with road-widening the loss of parking spots might be unacceptable to them.

Comment edited by Pxtl on 2017-02-02 13:16:30

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 02, 2017 at 13:57:10 in reply to Comment 120672

There's actually quite a lot of ROW to play with, including the currently-useless strips of grass abutting the narrow sidewalks:

Upper James ROW

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By KarlAndrus (registered) | Posted February 02, 2017 at 11:17:04

I am hopeful that despite needing the line to run in mixed traffic through downtown to the waterfront that some creative ideas will come up to make the system more "Rapid" through James St to the escarpment, then a dedicated lane up the mountain and (some rejigging of Upper James to accommodate proper BRT.

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By VivSaunders (registered) | Posted February 02, 2017 at 12:07:08

This latest announcement now has me convinced The City has no clear direction on priorities and the transit needs for our growth areas; and the province is pandering for votes.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 02, 2017 at 12:37:48 in reply to Comment 120667

The city's rapid transit plan has always been to build the B-Line first, followed by the A-Line. And that's exactly what is happening.

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By VivSaunders (registered) | Posted February 02, 2017 at 14:05:22 in reply to Comment 120669

No, it's not happening. The Moving forward plan always stated the BLine to Eastgate was a Top 15 priority to be completed within 15 years. After that the A line. When the announcement came out it was ending at QTC, the BLAST maps etc then showed the BLine extension in a future phase all the way to Fifty Road (and University Plaza in the west) . Todays announcement shows BLine Phase II LRT just to Eastgate again. We also have a GO station in the East that is going to be completed by 2021 yet the HSR plans after LRT opens, show either a LRT or TransCab trip plus with a minimum of 2 HSR bus transfers. We will still have congestion on the south mountain, 403, LINC, RHVP, and QEW Niagara. This ALine announcement doesn't address where the wholes are; nor does it address where the development is occurring. In my opinion, the anti-LRT camp will increase with this announcement; as will the divisiveness between the pre-amalgamation communities.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 02, 2017 at 14:25:32 in reply to Comment 120675

For several years the City and Metrolinx considered a phased approach to B-Line LRT, looking at a variety of possible interim eastern terminals including QTC. None of this is a break from the planning that led up to it.

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By VivSaunders (registered) | Posted February 02, 2017 at 14:38:28 in reply to Comment 120676

Thanks Ryan. It just doesn't make sense to me to go all the way to the Airport (where the ridership is extremely low), still leave voids or decrease service in existing growth areas (where the only viable option will continue to be a car), plus increase our net operating costs by +$14million per year.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 02, 2017 at 14:42:26 in reply to Comment 120677

Given that the A-Line is just going into the planning stage, I trust there will be a thorough benefits-case analysis of the transit need, ridership growth and transit-oriented development potential along the entire A-Line. It might not make sense to extend it all the way to the airport, but I'd like to see some data instead of just going with my gut.

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted February 02, 2017 at 12:11:46

I will be honest here guys, the A line as a "BRT lite" Line is a political compromise that will save the B-Line LRT in the long run. Since the B-line is now going out in the RFQ stage it will be very difficult to stop the line unless a provincial election changes things. From a professional perspective, the A Line Lite BRT service also frees up the B-Line operation from running a complicated spur line operation in a challenging open traffic environment on James street North.

Once the B-Line is running, residents who opposed it will see the difference between BRT Lite and true LRT and you will see calls for more LRT. Also, I think the members of your council who are against LRT will be facing a tough fight now because the first LRV (Light Rail Vehicle) is about to be shipped from Bombardier in Thunder Bay to the LRV Maintenance and Storage Facility for the ION Line in Waterloo for line testing. Its very hard to fight off LRT in Hamilton if you are facing a constant flood of pictures of an LRV testing on the semi complete LRT Line in Waterloo and Kitchener, so close to Hamilton.

Even the hard core anti-LRT pro BRT crowd in Ottawa were finally silenced when "public LRV testing" on an eastern segment of the Confederation Line started here in Ottawa. The silence continued when on the same day that the digging of the final connection of the 2 downtown LRT tunnel segments was complete, the city finally secured an agreement in principle from the NCC (National Capital Commission) over where the Stage 2 LRT expansion will operate on NCC land. LRT is here and sticking around for a while.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/lrt...

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By Dylan (registered) | Posted February 02, 2017 at 12:46:18

I like it! This gives for Mountain residents something, and bridges the void between the upper and lower city. I think the benefits of the LRT spur would have been minimal, and I'm hoping this BRT line can help develop the airport and waterfront more.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 02, 2017 at 12:49:02

Another issue not mentioned at the news conference today is that Hamilton will get all-day two-way GO Train service to Hunter GO Station by 2024 but not to West Harbour GO Station until later. As such, the B-Line with a pedestrian corridor along Hughson is the connection to regional express rail that the Province wanted when they approved the James North spur.

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By VivSaunders (registered) | Posted February 02, 2017 at 14:55:31

I might be oversimplifying, but isn't it a matter of City Staff or someone just comparing the Benefits Case analysis done for the BLine all the way to Eastgate versus the Feasibility Studies already done for the ALine (that had a phase 1 and phase 2 option) ? Updated with current ridership numbers of course.

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By Core-B (registered) | Posted February 02, 2017 at 15:35:21

A-line will no doubt have to proceed in mixed traffic on sections of James Street. Serious question: can signal prioritisation be used in mixed traffic conditions?

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted February 02, 2017 at 16:17:44 in reply to Comment 120680

Yes By Core-B, that's whole idea behind these types of signal systems they give transit the signal advantage in any traffic situation. It does help to much greater degree though if you can physically segregate the BRT right of way.

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By bobby2 (registered) | Posted February 02, 2017 at 17:17:56

Sad commentary on the involvement of average Hamilton residents regarding politics, transit,education, policing and the many other issues that affect people's lives! This issue involves politics as transit (LRT or Bus) services involves property tax payers as well as Provincial tax payers as all this money comes from all of US! I have to state, I'm against spending so much money on a fancy, dancy system that really adds no value other than the perceived view some will build now & others will come if you build it? Maybe, maybe not? Everyone wants to ignore the continuing trend of ridership #'s diving downward as public transit only suits a few! Anyway, look at the number of commenters for almost all issues on RTH, we could all fit in a good size closet. Raise the Hammer needs to somehow start to appeal to the many, as the Hamilton Spec is a total failure with it's "pay to read" policy that the boss "Toronto Star" gave up quite awhile ago. Hamilton needs a real voice, where is it? Let's admit, media needs to revamp itself as this City Council is dysfunctional, Prov. Liberal's have outlived their value years ago & now are only a "Revenue Tool" Party inventor & little media to call them on it. I'm sure my comments will not be taken well, however my intention was to improve the discourse of issues that affect all our lives:)

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By Deleted User (anonymous) | Posted February 02, 2017 at 17:47:26

As I stated in the comments section of Dreschel's article on declining HSR ridership the pro-LRT narrative is falling apart. Declining ridership, fewer fly-bys, and loads of unused capacity. This is according to the HSR. So why do we need a billion dollar train again? Add in the fact that bike lanes are being removed and more car lanes added and you have a boondoogle the likes of which hasn't been seen since the Pan-Am Games or any of the current Metrolinx scandals, or ORNGE, or e-Health or the gas plants or anything the Province touches really. Hey guys, let's build a train to support declining transit ridership and increase CAR CAPACITY and reduce BIKE LANES. How can you NOT get behind this plan?

http://www.thespec.com/opinion-story/7095845-dreschel-hsr-ridership-declines-as-service-improves/#comments

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted February 03, 2017 at 09:09:08 in reply to Comment 120683

It is important to put things in perspective. HSR has suffered from anemic ridership growth for the last twenty-five years due to decades of being starved of resources and vicious cycles of service cuts and fare increases.

The current improvements are not dramatic (service frequency has not increased significantly and no new routes have been added). They simply somewhat ameliorate the bad service on busy routes (drive-bys and over-capacity buses have been reduced, not eliminated).

Most importantly, the service increases were entirely funded out of fare increases (not transit levy increases) and the fare increases started before service improved (slightly). Council rejected contributing even a small proportion of the increase from the transit levy as originally recommended. HSR management actually predicted that fare increases (combined with very modest service increases later) would lead to fewer riders. And that's what happened.

We would need to see really significant improvements and investment (e.g. new lines, increasing frequency from 30 minute to 15 minutes) ... or much better higher order transit ... like LRT or BRT to really boost ridership.

HSR still has much worse service and and smaller fleet than 30 years ago when the population was much smaller. And contrary to what Dreschel claimed, many other systems have seen big ridership growth in the recent past (2006-2014) growth in Hamilton was only 5% while St Catharines, London, Mississauga, York Region, Brampton, Waterloo, Durham saw increases between 21% and 101%.

http://hamiltoncatch.org/view_article.ph...

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2017-02-03 09:19:07

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted February 03, 2017 at 10:52:47 in reply to Comment 120694

Dreschel clearly never uses the bus. Reading that article you'd think we have a robust transit system where nobody is ever left in the pouring rain, bus lanes whisk us swiftly across town and it's a convenience to use transit. I walk or bike any chance I can to avoid the huge risks that come with entrusting my schedule to the HSR.

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By Dylan (registered) | Posted February 02, 2017 at 19:38:49 in reply to Comment 120683

Decreased ridership doesn't mean you should not make investments in public transit in a large urban centre like Hamilton. You can debate the kind of transit the municipal and provincial governments should be investing in, but improvements are the only way you're going to mitigate car traffic growth in an urban core that's seeing business and population growth.

Comment edited by Dylan on 2017-02-02 19:39:55

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By AnonymousAdam (registered) | Posted February 02, 2017 at 22:22:25

Judging by how I got outbid on our next home in Hamilton (I own here already) by 30k, the steady creation of jobs downtown, expanding post secondary institutions, and plenty new businesses, I would say more people are coming, and decreased ridership will be a thing of the past if this is executed properly.

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By VivSaunders (registered) | Posted February 03, 2017 at 08:54:16

I think it's important to get details on where the ridership has decreased. Case in point, based on numbers received our TransCab trips have dropped by 65,000 trips last year. Assuming a 5 day, 40 week work period, approximately 162 people stopped using TransCab; and hence likely stopped using transfer to HSR. In addition, we also had an increase of 60,000 trips for DARTS; our paratransit service. Without knowing if these numbers are incl or excl from the 400K ridership decrease, it's difficult to get a clear picture of where we stand and/or where $ should be spent on enhanced service.

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted February 03, 2017 at 13:18:12

To me the worrying thing about the HSR is not whether ridership is up or down. The HSR is definitely underfunded and has been for a considerable time, going on decades. The ridership has been more or less flat lined or is in a very slow decline since the 1980's at the least. Putting in more operational and capital funding locally can help. Definitely fixing the area rating system for funding transit is a must! In the 1980's the HSR was easily the 3rd or 4th largest local transit agency in terms of passengers and spending, in the province (depends if you count Go Transit or not). Now, the HSR is 7th (not counting Go Transit) and will soon be passed in passengers numbers and spending by both Waterloo's Grand River Transit and London Transit, both of which started far, behind the HSR. Durham Regional Transit, a relative rookie agency that is just beginning to gain size and prominence will also very soon in short order be passing the stagnant HSR.

Massive budget increases and Rapid Transit, LRT and or BRT can build ridership but there are other cheaper things that can and must be done at the HSR. Cheap things like a website that is really usable, actually being on social media and taking it seriously. The HSR only recently decided to have a presence on Twitter for example. Ottawa's OC Transpo been there for almost 9 years, and O.C. Transpo is really not that tech savy. This sheer lack of a big online presence hurts the service, access for older reports and records for the HSR is astoundingly poor. Transit agencies in Canada have learned painfully that, you can't hide or horde away info about your operations, that eventually backfires on you.

Cheap marketing about the service itself. If you have young children this becomes important if you want to interest and build up little transit users. Just about every large transit operation or one with a rapid transit service for example, has some kind of cheap paper folding models of buses and or trains that you can print on your printer at home and have a little paper toy for the kids, ready made. A few hundred printed on simple card stock at local festivals and events establishes a memorable community presence for the operation. Coloring sheets that can be printed off at home that show kids how to use and behave on the bus, really simple cheap marketing! Brick and mortar stores as well as E stores selling transit items of all kinds have popped up recently, nice if you want to by stuff for transit fans. Heck, even Canadian model railway company Rapido Trains, is now producing museum quality HO scale (1:87) classic Canadian and American GM Newlook Bus models in various historical paint schemes for your model railway layouts. The transit service doesn't make the product, all they have to do is provide the rights for the private companies and they do the hard work for them.

This is very difficult to say but as an independent planning consultant I have seen things that show the real internal problems at the HSR and its governance group. It would be nice to have city council members that will actually openly support the HSR's planners and transit employees. Unfortunately, you get guys and girls like Councilor Whitehead and Skelly in every city council. What the HSR really needs is an internal shake up to get the cob webs out. The times I have worked with HSR staff show a heavily demoralized group all throughout the organization. I'm not talking about wholesale firings here. A seed change in attitude is needed across the whole organization, good employee or not. Certain organizational structures must change because they were outdated when I started working as a planner 2 and half decades ago, then I briefly left planning joined the navy and then came back to planning. Many of these outdated practices and structures are still there. Real change has to begin at the HSR itself long before the budgets get bigger.

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted February 03, 2017 at 14:15:59

Haha....I've always said these mountain councillors oppose transit. Period. Proof in today's Spec. All complaining about it and acting like they've never heard of this A-Line.
Can we just take all the money and spend it on transit in the lower city where councillors want it? Enough trying to placate people who hate transit, even in their own neighbourhoods.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted February 03, 2017 at 14:18:53 in reply to Comment 120698

Anybody have a backup of Terry's old tweets where he's begging for the A-Line and espousing the merits of BRT?

edit: I assume he'll be deleting articles like this soon:

http://terrywhitehead.ca/hamilton-lrt-vs...

Comment edited by Pxtl on 2017-02-03 14:20:36

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By GrapeApe (registered) | Posted February 03, 2017 at 18:14:53 in reply to Comment 120699

https://web.archive.org/web/20150901000000*/https://twitter.com/terrywhitehead

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By HamiltonTransitHistory (registered) - website | Posted February 04, 2017 at 13:15:44

As long as it's built in such a way that it can be converted to LRT in the future, I'll take it.

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