Special Report: Light Rail

Flamborough Councillor Spins Misleading Claims to Oppose LRT

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.

We are already seeing local news reports of development projects that explicitly cite LRT as the reason for going ahead.

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.

Accommodate Traffic from Growth

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.

Operating Cost

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.

Operating Revenue

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.

LRT Money for LRT Only

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.

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 Deleted User (anonymous) | Posted March 31, 2017 at 17:10:49

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Comment edited by JimC on 2017-03-31 17:12:55

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By davekuruc (registered) | Posted March 31, 2017 at 19:41:16 in reply to Comment 121029

Hey JimC - Mixed Media opened up in 2005 and we're both from Hamilton. In fact, most of the folks on James North from that era were locals.

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By Deleted User (anonymous) | Posted March 31, 2017 at 21:00:30 in reply to Comment 121033

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Comment edited by JimC on 2017-03-31 21:01:57

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted March 31, 2017 at 17:30:02 in reply to Comment 121029

The city needs investment, growth, construction and jobs, Jim. I couldn't disagree with you more forcefully. LRT has been a substantial spur to investment; as a member of my local community association, I know of four projects where builders have spoken to us specifically about the desirability of LRT in their plans for building newer and more intensive developments.

While I agree with you that investment purely for its own sake is not desirable, investment that promotes growth and construction and jobs is very desirable. That which increases the intensification of our lower city and LRT route are even more desirable.

-Craig Burley

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By Deleted User (anonymous) | Posted March 31, 2017 at 21:03:05 in reply to Comment 121030

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Comment edited by JimC on 2017-03-31 21:04:55

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By z jones (registered) | Posted March 31, 2017 at 22:05:18 in reply to Comment 121037

Seriously dude? The only way to protect farmland is grow up not out. LRT let's us do that, how do you not get that?

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted March 31, 2017 at 17:48:22

It was only after the meeting on Tuesday that I learned that 80% of the funding commitment will be used directly for infrastructure repair/replacement. That bit of info should be front and centre of the information campaign for LRT. So many LRT opponents have been going on about our crumbling infrastructure. Apparently our current repair deficit is 3.3 billion. The LRT would carve 800 million out of that number! That is massive! A full quarter of the total infrastructure deficit wiped out in one shot. In fact, the LRT itself should be secondary to this fact. We are getting 800 million in free money to repair pipes and cables and, on top of that, an LRT system.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 31, 2017 at 18:55:09 in reply to Comment 121031

To be completely fair, it would be 80% of the estimated $900 million cost for the B-Line.

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted March 31, 2017 at 19:58:38 in reply to Comment 121032

Which is still not chump change. 700+ million in repairs. People need to be aware of this.

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By Deleted User (anonymous) | Posted March 31, 2017 at 21:06:26 in reply to Comment 121034

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Comment edited by JimC on 2017-03-31 21:07:13

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted March 31, 2017 at 22:44:25 in reply to Comment 121038

What part of what I wrote makes you think I trust the government? I do realize that this deal is a bit like rolling dice that are somewhat loaded in our favour. Everything comes with risks and sometimes you have to steel yourself and jump in and hope for the best.

Look at it this way. This year city council is raising our taxes, firing people (LOTS of people) and cutting services. They acknowledge that this is a band-aid solution that they will have to repeat next year. Why? Because they have no other tools at their disposal. They will keep cutting services, raising taxes and firing staff until this city is driven into the ground.

Now, along comes this LRT project. It promises to spur development and attract business which would increase our tax base and thus reduce the tax pressure on residents. Should we believe it? At this point, in Hamilton, I think we should take the promise with a grain of salt and hope it pans out. Certainly there is some precedent for this promise being kept. We're being tossed a life line. We still might be swept under by the waves but if we stay the course we're on now we certainly will be.

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By Deleted User (anonymous) | Posted April 01, 2017 at 06:15:29

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Comment edited by JimC on 2017-04-01 06:17:28

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted April 01, 2017 at 21:42:55 in reply to Comment 121043

JimC, your argument against LRT keeps shifting and you never acknowledge or address previous responses to your claims when you pop up on the next article to make new ones.

There are lots of different forms of development. The development status quo in Hamilton over the past 70 years has been single-use buildings on suburban greenfields on the edge of town, and the building of the Red Hill Valley Parkway was part of that system.

That system is both environmentally and financially unsustainable. Hamilton cannot afford to maintain its vast network of streets (and water and sewer lines, plus policing, waste collection and other services) on a sparse, low-density tax base of those same single-use buildings.

The only way to protect further greenfields from being destroyed, additional cars from being added to our streets and additional debt obligations to our huge infrastructure backlog is to change the form of new development so that we start building up on urban land that is already serviced instead of continuing to build out.

LRT lets us do that. It allows a higher density of land use that brings a higher concentration of people and uses into much closer proximity, reduces the need for driving and grows the city's tax base without growing its infrastructure debt.

LRT is not just about getting people from point A to point B, although that is obviously part of it. LRT is also about changing the dynamics around how we add more points - more places to live, more places to work, more places to do business, more places to socialize and play, more places to connect - so that we bring those points closer together and reduce the need to destroy natural lands and drive everywhere.

On the matter of cycling, it has been pointed out to you repeatedly that staff are committed to a cycling network that is as good as or better than it is today. On York, staff are considering the proposal to upgrade the eastbound buffered bike lane on York into a protected two-way cycle track connecting with the Cannon Cycle track. On Dundurn, they are considering either adding an off-street multi-use path from York to King or converting Breadalbane into a cycling greenway.

These will connect to each other, to the cycle track on King across Highway 403, which they are not planning to remove, and to the Cannon cycle track, which they are not planning to remove.

This is not about enriching developers. Developers have always figured out how to get rich selling buildings and will continue to get rich no matter what the city does.

With a rapid transit plan, they will get rich developing new buildings that provide a more diverse mix of housing forms, bring more people closer together, reduce the need to drive, and reduce the city's net infrastructure debt.

Without a rapid transit plan, they will continue to get rich building single-use sprawl that destroys the countryside and forces nearly everyone to drive for nearly every trip.

Here's your chance to prove you're not just concern trolling. Set aside the ad hominem and strawman attacks and actually address my response instead of just popping up a few days from now to dole out another spray of accusations.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2017-04-01 21:46:52

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By rednic (registered) | Posted April 02, 2017 at 07:31:48

Of course much to the benefit of the lower city!

http://judipartridge.ca/mto-highway-5-6-...

I'll be writing to my councillor enquiring as to the ongoing maintenance costs which will be paid for with my tax dollars. The really scary part is I don't think the LRT would pass if Hamilton was de-amalgamated.

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted April 03, 2017 at 00:41:49

If the current City of Hamilton was not already an amalgamation of Hamilton and the smaller communities of the former Wentworth County you would be complaining that you should be amalgamated with it. Functioning as a dozen or so small communities surrounding a smaller central city of Hamilton and getting no help from its much larger tax base, all of you would probably treat it like its always getting stuff from senior levels of government, while you get nothing. Hamilton would probably already have LRT or some form of rapid transit by now. You would all be complaining why your particular smaller community, can't get connected to Hamilton's transit system or have decent roads and libraries, just like Hamilton. I have heard these idiotic arguments for de-amalgamation my entire career as an urban planner.

The truth, smaller communities that surround bigger cities benefit greatly by sharing the larger tax base. Without it, you would have none of the benefits and very little development. Having a larger tax base makes infrastructure projects possible that by yourself simply couldn't be done. Communities like Dundas, Ancaster, Stoney Creek, Flamborough and Glanbrook all thrived under partial amalgamation with the Regional Government System of Hamilton-Wentworth and even more in a united City of Hamilton whether you realize it or not.

Many of your local road widening projects, smaller communities see, would be virtually impossible unless you were sharing taxes with larger communities or the province. You could not afford the engineering, planning and design work to start with. You would be forced to rely on expertise from the companies making the bids for these local projects. You would also be subject to any bad decision they make because you would have virtually no one on staff who could possibly, counter that bad idea professionally. Unfortunately I have seen this happen a lot to smaller communities. I personally often get called in after the fact, to deal with the fallout from the bad decisions that were made because a small city or large town didn't want to employ a professional on staff, who could have warned the council and say, "no this a bad choice!"

What's worse and most unfortunate is that, its usually but not exclusively, the conservative local politicians that totally disregard their professional staff's recommendations on many subjects, not just LRT. Usually sometime later these politicians discover that, they should have listened to their staff. During Ottawa's North-South LRT debate between 2003-2006, we had a gentleman who said we should break our signed deal with Siemens and PCL Dufferin and cancel the LRT project because there was still too much we don't know about the possible costs to the city (sound familiar). The staff pronounced gloom and doom if we did this. The LRT detractors ignored the staff. That idiot became mayor and with a little help from several local Conservative Federal MP's (including MP John Baird) and the 2006 Municipal Election, the North-South LRT Line was eventually cancelled. Just as staff said, the City of Ottawa was sued and lost. Having to pay $42 Million to Siemens and PCL Dufferin. Just as staff predicted, for years afterwards many companies from many industries dealing with the city of Ottawa, seriously padded their project or service contract costs. They feared that, they could loose a lot of money dealing with the city of Ottawa. What if the city suddenly decided, we don't want to pay you! We don't care if you have a contract with us take us to court. We had broke a signed contract with one of the largest companies on Earth, how much would small contractors have to pay to sue the city? Could they even afford it? The marching orders for contractors became grab as much money as you can from them before the city screws you. It is still effecting contracts today and most people in Ottawa have no idea of this. Abandoning LRT in Hamilton now, after so much has already been spent, so many years of planning and design work has done by so many people, will damage your city's reputation in so many ways you can't even imagine.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted April 03, 2017 at 05:15:52 in reply to Comment 121046

Prior to amalgamation, we had both local municipal governments and a regional government of Hamilton-Wentworth that pooled local tax revenue (mainly from Hamilton) and used it to fund infrastructure in the suburban municipalities. This is a fact many of those residents have since forgotten.

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