Councillor Partridge needs to explain why she would reject an investment that will pay for infrastructure replacement, increase Hamilton's property tax assessment and improve its net transit operating cost obligations.
By Ryan McGreal
Published March 31, 2017
Flamborough Councillor Judi Partridge has thrown down the gauntlet on the city's Light Rail Transit (LRT) plan with an absurd opinion piece explaining her change-of-heart on the plan.
Partridge starts by noting that LRT was first proposed to "as a means of jumpstarting development in our downtown. Early reports suggested that we would see an economic uplift and that the costs to operate such a system would be lower than what we are paying for the current bus system."
She goes on to claim that the situation is different now because Hamilton has a hot real estate market and redevelopment projects are going ahead downtown, implying that we no longer need LRT to redevelop the core.
This doesn't make sense. The downtown is seeing new development in large part because the Province committed full capital funding for LRT and Council - including Partridge - voted to accept that funding and start implementing the system.
This is also consistent with the delegation last Tuesday by architect David Premi, who pointed out that developer interest in Hamilton has increased dramatically since Council approved the LRT plan.
The improved economic situation downtown is a validation of Council's LRT support, not an excuse to reconsider it!
Suzanne Mammel, executive officer of the Hamilton Halton Home Builders Association, made this clear in her delegation to Councillors last Tuesday when she warned that if LRT does not go ahead, we will lose out on some new developments.
Partridge's analysis also ignores the fact that LRT is not only necessary to attract new urban development, but also to accommodate the increased number of trips generated by locating more people and jobs along this corridor.
The bus system serving the LRT corridor is already under strain, with overstuffed buses and frequent pass-bys (full buses that cannot stop to pick up more passengers), despite city efforts in recent years to mitigate capacity deficiencies.
There is a limit to how many more buses we can throw at this corridor, and each additional bus increases the city's operating cost because every bus requires a driver.
Assuming even some of the expected development still materializes if Council sabotages the LRT project, in the absence of rapid transit the B-Line corridor will become congested from the additional traffic generated by that development.
On the subject of operating cost, Partridge next refers to "the looming question hanging over all of us", i.e. "How much is the LRT going to cost us and who is going to pay for it?"
The short answer, which Council has been told repeatedly, is that we cannot get a definitive number until after Metrolinx has decided on the winning bid in the RFP process to select a consortium that will build, operate and maintain the system. Metrolinx will own the system and will pay the consortium to operate it over the life of the contract.
Once that operating cost is settled, Metrolinx and the City will negotiate how to share the operating cost and revenue. Metrolinx wants this project to be successful and will be eager to negotiate terms that are fair and manageable for the city. They're not trying to set us up for failure!
But Partridge warns that our LRT could cost "over $23 million a year. That would represent half of our total city-wide operating budget for the HSR."
Her $23 million seems to be a guess based loosely on the Eglinton Crosstown LRT in Toronto, a far more complex system with underground sections that was built in a different political and operational context than Hamilton's LRT.
I'm not sure how Partridge has determined that Hamilton only spends $46 million a year on transit. According to the 2016 approved net tax operating budget, The year-end actual operating budget for HSR in 2015 was $59,019,700 and the approved budget for 2016 was $59,993,520.
So what share of the total operating budget serves the LRT corridor? According to the City, the 01-King, 05-Delaware, 10-B-Line and 51-University bus routes collectively cost a little over $18 million to operate in 2015.
So even if Partridge's scary operating cost guess is correct, the City would have to do an absolutely terrible job of negotiating with Metrolinx in order to get stuck paying an operating cost for LRT that is worse than the cost we're paying today for the buses serving this corridor.
Now let's look at the revenue side, something LRT opponents are extremely reluctant to do. We know that in the immediate term, LRT is excellent at attracting new by-choice transit riders who prefer its superior comfort, convenience, schedule reliability and accessibility compared to buses.
Over the longer term, the new transit-oriented developments around the LRT line will generate a steadily growing pool of passengers using LRT to get to and from both home and employment.
Since a large part of transit operating cost is paying operators and each LRT operator can carry up to several times as many passengers as a bus operator, LRT can achieve a much higher ridership - and hence a higher operating revenue - at a given operating cost.
So as long as Metrolinx negotiates a reasonable cost- and revenue-sharing model with the city, we will end up ahead of where we are today on both the operating cost and operating revenue side of the equation.
And that doesn't even consider the many millions of dollars in additional property tax revenue the city will collect from the new developments that LRT will attract, let alone the huge capital savings to the city of having the the Province replace the ancient municipal infrastructure along the LRT corridor.
Finally, she continues to make the misleading insinuation that Hamilton can use the $1 billion funding commitment for something other than the approved rapid transit plan.
This is simply false. If we turn down the funding, it goes back into the rapid transit fund and we have to start from scratch to develop a new rapid transit funding request, a process that takes several years. The $1 billion will not be set aside for us but instead will be spent on other approved projects that await funding.
MPP Ted McMeekin reminded Hamilton of this yet again today at a Federal transit funding announcement.
Even if some future Provincial government is willing to enter into a new agreement with Hamilton after we renege on our previous commitment, we will have thrown away a decade of work, lost another decade of momentum, and alienated every single person and organization who has invested time, energy and money into this project.
It would devastate the investors and developers who have committed to Hamilton on the strength of our commitment to LRT. That alone would be a disaster for the city's credibility as a responsible place to invest.
We might never recover the lost momentum from such a reckless and irresponsible decision, and no councillor who claims to be pro-business and pro-development can be taken seriously if they are willing to risk sabotaging this project.
If Partridge is serious about wanting to protect Hamilton residents from a cost burden we cannot afford to carry, she needs to explain why she would reject an investment that will save local taxpayers the cost of infrastructure replacement, increase Hamilton's property tax assessment, and improve its net transit operating cost obligations.
You must be logged in to comment.