Special Report: Light Rail

Anti-LRT Misinformation and Fearmongering is Getting Ridiculous

LRT opponents are relying on the classic Obstructionist Playbook of false claims, misinformation and fearmongering to try and sabotage this transformative, once-in-a-lifetime public investment in Hamilton's future.

By Ryan McGreal
Published April 07, 2017

A new unsigned editorial in the Hamilton Community News weeklies carves out a new low in the already abysmal trough of misinformation and fearmongering about Hamilton's Light Rail Transit (LRT) plan.

It starts by referencing the recent op-ed by Flamborough Councillor Judi Partridge, which has already been thoroughly debunked, including by the City's own LRT director, Paul Johnson.

The first is how the LRT has been scaled back from the original 14-kilometre route that would have started in Dundas and continue to Eastgate Square to a truncated 11-km venture from McMaster University to the Queenston Circle.

I didn't address this in my earlier piece, but this is just not true. The original Rapid Transit Feasibility Study [PDF] in 2008 was for a rapid transit line running between McMaster University and Eastgate Square, not starting in Dundas.

As for the eastern terminus, Council unanimously voted to submit the Rapid Ready LRT plan to the Province for funding consideration, and that plan provided the Province with multiple funding options, including a fully-funded line from McMaster to Eastgate or a phased line running from McMaster to Queenston in the first phase and an extension to Eastgate in the second phase.

I would love nothing more than to see the second phase go ahead as soon as possible, and it would be smart for the Province to short-circuit this objection and provide a funding commitment and timeline for this second phase - assuming the first phase goes ahead.

However, Council voted to submit a phased option to the Province, and Council also voted to accept the phased funding commitment when the Province announced it.

It is absolutely false for Councillors to claim now that they're having second thoughts because they didn't get what they asked for.

If the LRT was truly trying to connect all of Hamilton, then running the service outside the core would seem to be a critical part to making it a success.

McMaster and Queenston traffic circle are 11 km apart in the suburbs, and they're both far outside the widest geographic area that could reasonably be considered the "core" of the city, except to someone who vaguely dismisses the entire lower city as the "core".

The actual downtown core is bounded by Queen Street, Cannon Street, Wellington Street and Hunter Street - an area 1.7 km across from east to west and 850 metres from north to south.

The editorial goes on:

A report for Toronto city council released earlier this year found that operating the four LRTs in that city could cost more than $100 million per year. The Eglinton Crosstown LRT alone is expected to cost the city about $39 million in annual subsidy.

As Johnson already pointed out, the Crosstown will have a much higher operating cost due to the large underground section. Hamilton's LRT will be more like Waterloo Region's ION LRT, which has an operating and maintenance cost of $8.5 million a year for an 18 km line.

Given that Hamilton's LRT line is 11 km long, the equivalent annual operating cost for our line would be around $5 million. Given that the City is currently spending $18.2 million in operating costs on the four main bus routes serving the LRT corridor, this fear about unknown operating costs is just ridiculous.

And in any case, it is a straightforward contradiction to complain that the LRT route is not long enough, and also complain that the operating cost might be too high. After all, a longer route would necessarily mean a higher operating cost!

How much will Hamilton's operating cost be in 2024 when the service is scheduled to start? No one knows.

This is pure fearmongering. The exact number is not known, but the general framework in which the City and Metrolinx will negotiate operating cost and revenue sharing is quite clear. And Council has received those numbers in an email from Paul Johnson.

There are also questionable numbers around how much building the LRT will actually cost. Is it $1 billion, or $900 million due to the shortened route and elimination of the James Street North spur?

The final capital cost will depend on the winning bid in the Request For Proposals (RFP) process to select a consortium that Metrolinx will contract to finance and build the system, as everyone who has been paying attention to the file should already understand.

That RFP process is on hold for as long as Council delays on approving the Environmental Assessment (EA) amendment. That EA amendment, of course, has absolutely nothing to do with capital or operating costs and is a necessary regulatory step that has to be completed before the final costing can actually take place.

And how much of that $1 billion will go toward paying for the bus rapid transit service from the waterfront to the Hamilton Airport that was hastily announced by Metrolinx?

The Province has already said that any money not used in the capital cost of the B-Line will be redirected into planning and developing the A-Line.

That lack of transparency doesn't sit well with a number of councillors who have been wavering in their support of this project.

This is not a lack of transparency, it is an RFP process that Council already agreed to when they signed the Memorandum of Agreement [PDF] with Metrolinx. That Agreement states in part:

The determination of who will operate and maintain the vehicles and be responsible for certain matters ancillary thereto, including maintenance and operating costs, will be determined at a later date and included in future definitive agreements.

When Council voted to approve the MOA, they agreed to the schedule and order of milestones that Metrolinx has been following. Nothing has changed since then, and Metrolinx has simply been doing exactly what they committed to do. Indeed, Metrolinx has been acting "expeditiously, diligently and in good faith and in a co-operative and collaborative manner" on our behalf to "to facilitate and expedite the construction and completion of the Project."

It is Council that is acting in bad faith by refusing to uphold its own commitments under the MOA and by suddenly objecting to a project timeline they already agreed to support.

Such misfeasance will not come without a cost. Metrolinx has already committed $70 million on this project based on Council's commitment to it. If we renege on that commitment and pull the plug, we will be liable to pay that money back. That works out to around $300 per household.

While proponents continue to argue it will be great for Hamilton economically, there seems to be a lack of supporting evidence for that optimistic projection.

This is just false. There is an overwhelming body of supporting evidence dating back over ten years of project development, including independent research by transportation experts on the economic, environmental and transportation benefits of this investment.

It is the LRT opponents who have failed to provide any "supporting evidence" for their extraordinary and implausible predictions of failure. Instead, they have relied on the classic Obstructionist Playbook of false claims, misinformation and fearmongering to try and undermine, delay and sabotage this transformative, once-in-a-lifetime public investment.

It is utterly shameful, and if the obstructionists actually manage to succeed in scaremongering this project to death, what we will lose - in direct costs for misfeasance, infrastructure replacement, thousands of construction jobs, transit operating costs, private investment, traffic congestion, quality of life, credibility as a place to invest, and the potential to set our finances on the road to sustainability - will materially damage this city for decades to come.

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.

22 Comments

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted April 07, 2017 at 11:03:39

How much will Hamilton's operating cost be in 2024 when the service is scheduled to start? No one knows.

Just that one statement alone shows how bizarre is the thinking of this kind of LRT opponent. By the same logic, nobody should buy a house or condo because the operating and maintenance costs in 2024 are unknown. And definitely nobody should ever start a business because the business costs in 2024 are unknown.

Comment edited by KevinLove on 2017-04-07 11:04:02

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By TreyS (registered) | Posted April 07, 2017 at 11:36:59

Why isn't going along Main? Was this even an option? I bet the infrastructure under King is older and since this is largely an infrastructure project, Main's sewers, watermains are still good. Something shady about the route makes me on the fence about LRT. Fred and Sam just talk about getting the roads fixed, it is not about transit.

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted April 07, 2017 at 12:19:30 in reply to Comment 121136

Roads, sewers and water mains - 700+ million dollars worth. I would also assume that the city would be able to cancel the backwater flow prevention program (2.5 million per year) and would have no need of any new such program in the downtown after the sewers are fixed.

Also, bear in mind, notwithstanding that the location of the line has already been decided, about 40% of it is on Main St. So, that means that 40% of the repairs will be done on Main.

Comment edited by ergopepsi on 2017-04-07 12:31:11

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By TreyS (registered) | Posted April 07, 2017 at 12:24:17

70 percent of the budget is for infrastructure.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted April 07, 2017 at 12:26:07 in reply to Comment 121136

Why isn't going along Main? Was this even an option?

Main and King were both considered, and staff decided King was overall the better route. King has several benefits over Main:

  • It is directly accessible to a larger population

  • Main passes close enough to the Escarpment for much of its route that it reduces the potential for transit-oriented development

  • Main can serve as a cross-town arterial for cars if LRT goes on King, but King has a bottleneck through the International Village that limits its usefulness as an arterial

If LRT was on Main, project opponents would be raising these objections to claim it should have been on King instead.

In any case, the decision was made several years ago, before Council approved the plan and voted to submit it to the Province for funding.

Fred and Sam just talk about getting the roads fixed, it is not about transit.

LRT achieves a wide range of benefits: better transit, higher capacity, more ridership, new development, land use intensification, growing the tax base, adding more housing and employment through the corridor, replacement of ancient infrastructure, and so on.

This is an extremely well-designed plan that has been developed over a decade, survived an enormous amount of vetting and criticism, and has the endorsement of the widest array of transportation, planning, business, civic, environmental and social policy organizations that I have ever seen for any municipal infrastructure project.

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted April 07, 2017 at 12:32:26 in reply to Comment 121141

80% as per LRT Director Paul Johnson.

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By JimC (registered) | Posted April 07, 2017 at 16:30:16 in reply to Comment 121143

So why are we even bothering putting the tracks in? Seems kind of strange that the province insists we build a train as a formality before we can access cash for infrastructure repairs. All I hear is that the billion is only for the LRT and now the story is that $800 million is really for infrastructure. Well, now we're only $200 million away from just allocating the entire amount to needed infrastructure. How about this: give us $800 million for infrastructure as planned and keep the $200 million as change. Sounds like a ploy.

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By JimC (registered) | Posted April 07, 2017 at 16:32:06 in reply to Comment 121135

When I buy a house I accumulate equity and I expect its value to appreciate. The LRT will depreciate and I get no equity. Your analogy doesn't hold. And when I start a business or buy a house I take immediate delivery and the costs to own and operate are known at the time of purchase. I don't understand what you're trying to get at. That's some serious pretzel logic. Edit: When you sign your mortgage you know what your payments will be 30 years out as well. The more I think about your comment the more confused I get.

Comment edited by JimC on 2017-04-07 16:51:57

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By JimC (registered) | Posted April 07, 2017 at 16:34:40

"It is utterly shameful, and if the obstructionists actually manage to succeed in scaremongering this project to death, what we will lose - in direct costs for misfeasance, infrastructure replacement, thousands of construction jobs, transit operating costs, private investment, traffic congestion, quality of life, credibility as a place to invest, and the potential to set our finances on the road to sustainability - will materially damage this city for decades to come."

Highlights from this paragraph: "It's shameful to scaremonger." And then: "(If you don't build this) it will damage this city for decades to come." Wow and look at how much damage tehre'll be: I'll lose my job; won't be able to cross the street; my life will suck; investors will stay away! Yep. No scaremongering here. Just pure facts. Keep up the good work Ryan.

Comment edited by JimC on 2017-04-07 16:36:18

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By TreyS (registered) | Posted April 07, 2017 at 17:22:21

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted April 07, 2017 at 19:16:46 in reply to Comment 121148

When I buy a house I accumulate equity and I expect its value to appreciate.

Reality has a nasty habit of disappointing such expectations. The real estate crashes of 1989 and 2008 provide good examples of that.

when I start a business or buy a house I take immediate delivery and the costs to own and operate are known at the time of purchase.

Perhaps, but I doubt if you know what those costs will be in the year 2024.

Edit: When you sign your mortgage you know what your payments will be 30 years out as well.

Good luck finding a bank that will lock in the interest rate for 30 years. For example, the Bank of Montreal will not fix the mortgage rate for longer than 7 years. Which, by the way, takes us to 2024. If interest rates go up, so does your mortgage payment.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted April 07, 2017 at 19:18:49

From the description of the video you quote:

an example of non attentive auto drivers mixing with light rail trains on city streets.

This is driver failure. What does this have to do with LRT success?

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted April 07, 2017 at 19:54:15 in reply to Comment 121147

Ploy, yes, you would know.

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted April 08, 2017 at 05:48:02

Yes Houston's LRT had a lot of traffic accidents. According to traffic cops in Houston who have to investigate these accidents, 99.99% of them are caused by drivers breaking the rules. Want to end the threat of accidents with Hamilton's LRT, stop giving drivers tiny penalties for getting into accidents with LRV's. Hit one of Hamilton's LRV's and its your fault, loose your license for a few weeks and pay a $5,000 fine plus court costs. Do it again, loose your license for life and pay $50,000 fine plus court costs.

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted April 08, 2017 at 06:25:03

When you talk about LRT, its all about the attitude of the people on council. A supportive council helps the project. Case in point is the newest video from Ottawa. A little too happy cheery for me but it does help!

https://twitter.com/hashtag/OttLRT?src=h...

https://pbs.twimg.com/media/C8udcSZXoAAJ...

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted April 08, 2017 at 06:36:46

Like I said before a good attitude helps.

https://ci4.googleusercontent.com/proxy/...

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted April 08, 2017 at 06:56:18

Like I said, attitude counts when you talk about LRT. What do you do when you have a complete underground LRT station concourse ready for July 1st 2017, way ahead of schedule for it 2018 opening? You do what Ottawa does, and have a really cool and free light show in it. All in time for Canada's 150th Birthday Party.

http://www.ottawa2017.ca/events/signatur...

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By brundlefly (registered) - website | Posted April 08, 2017 at 11:12:47 in reply to Comment 121135

How much will an iPhone cost in 2024... I am quitting SmartPhones until someone can answer this.

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By brundlefly (registered) - website | Posted April 08, 2017 at 11:14:34 in reply to Comment 121147

JimC — "My Car!!!"

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By JimC (registered) | Posted April 08, 2017 at 13:24:36 in reply to Comment 121163

If I told you you could buy iPhone 7 today at full purchase price and take delivery in 2024 would you do it? Would you think that's a good idea? This analogy doesn't work.

Comment edited by JimC on 2017-04-08 13:24:47

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By rednic (registered) | Posted April 09, 2017 at 07:33:35 in reply to Comment 121135

An iPhone will cost as much as the nearest competitors top end model in 2024.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted April 10, 2017 at 23:18:57 in reply to Comment 121148

And when I start a business...I take immediate delivery and the costs to own and operate are known at the time of purchase.

said someone who's never started a business...

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