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.
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.
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