Special Report: Light Rail

HLR Urges Council to Continue with Current LRT Procurement Model

When Councillors meet on December 18 to formally receive the letter from Metrolinx, the best way forward is to allow the existing procurement process to move forward as quickly as possible so this project can get back on track.

By RTH Staff
Published December 06, 2017

Hamilton Light Rail (HLR) urges City Council to continue with the current Light Rail Transit (LRT) procurement model that Council already accepted under the Memorandum of Agreement with Metrolinx on February 10, 2016.

Likewise, HLR urges the Province and Metrolinx to deny any request to further postpone a final decision beyond the January 24, 2018 deadline that was stated in the November 24, 2017 letter from Metrolinx.

Under the current procurement model, Metrolinx is responsible to contract the design, construction, financing, operation and maintenance of the LRT system to a consortium. The Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for this process was completed earlier this year, but the project has been held up for more than three months since Council requested in August to have the HSR operate LRT instead.

Having the same consortium build, operate and maintain the system provides a strong incentive for the consortium not to cut corners. Further, it means the system will be operated and maintained by a contractor that has already demonstrated the requisite expertise to run an LRT system safely and reliably.

We also note here that the operations and maintenance employees will almost certainly be unionized under the current procurement model. Any company qualified to build and run an LRT system already has a unionized workforce. This is the model Metrolinx has been using for GO Train operators, who are unionized Bombardier employees.

LRT Operations

Metrolinx strongly recommends against taking operations out of that procurement model. The change would mean that the City assumes the full operational cost, responsibility and liability risk for the LRT.

City Council has consistently maintained that the city's LRT cost exposure should be minimized. In response, the Province agreed to provide 100 percent capital funding and a procurement model in which the City's operational cost obligation will be a fixed and predictable amount, negotiated under the Master Agreement with Metrolinx.

Assuming full responsibility for LRT operation would go directly against Council's longstanding commitment to protect Hamilton ratepayers from risk.

In addition, taking over operations would mean an additional four or five month delay in order to re-issue an RFQ with the operations piece removed from the contract. The project schedule is already in jeopardy due to this last-minute change request, and every additional delay increases the risk to the project as a whole.

Local Transit Context

We agree in principle that there are benefits to integrating LRT and local transit under the same delivery system. However, the local context matters, and that principle must be balanced against an HSR that is plagued with low morale, shockingly high absenteeism and literally several hundred no-show buses every month.

It would be imprudent to risk a billion-dollar investment in rapid transit to a delivery service that struggles to maintain local bus service on a day-to-day basis and is a long way from the kind of systemic changes necessary to become the reliable, high-quality transit service Hamilton needs and deserves.

We recognize that not every LRT supporter will agree with this assessment, and that reasonable people can come to different conclusions about this complex issue. However, we have carefully weighed the various considerations and believe the balance of risks favours maintaining the procurement model that Council and Metrolinx already agreed to, which is already in progress.

Best Way Forward

When Councillors meet on December 18 to formally receive the letter from Metrolinx, the best way forward is to drop the proposal to have HSR operate LRT and allow the procurement process to move forward as quickly as possible so this project can get back on track.

The worst thing that could happen would be for Council to drag the matter out even further, and toward that end HLR urges the Province not to agree to any proposed extension to the January 24 deadline.

This transformative investment is too important to Hamilton's future for us to drop the ball at such an advanced stage. Let's get the first phase of the city's rapid transit network built, and as HSR continues to improve its operational readiness, Council can push for HSR to operate the next phase while that project's Memorandum of Agreement is being negotiated.

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By Crispy (registered) | Posted December 06, 2017 at 10:34:00

I'm looking forward to hearing what green has to say on the 18th.

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By rgelder@cogeco.ca (registered) - website | Posted December 06, 2017 at 11:30:01

Having made a personal investment in this issue (I literally stood in the streets of downtown Dundas with a home-made sandwich board uriging people to contact Councillor VanderBeek to support LRT) and having followed the current plight of the HSR, and having at least some cursory knowledge of systems in Toronto and Ottawa, I have to say I agree with this piece. Let Metrolinx run LRT as it gets off the ground. Local maintenance and operation can be re-visited at some point in the future.

The chief argument - and please chime in if I am missing anything - in favour of HSR operation and maintenance is the desire to have LRT operators as members of the local transit workers union. That’s fine, but can’t we have our cake and eat it? What is it about Metrolinx running the system that would prevent this from happening? I am genuinely curious.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted December 06, 2017 at 11:35:26 in reply to Comment 122246

The operations and maintenance workers will almost certainly be unionized, but they might not be members of ATU Local 107. For the HSR to operate the system, the consortium that wins the bid would have to subcontract the work to them. There is nothing in the procurement model to preclude this, but nor is there any mechanism to require it.

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By CharlesBall (registered) | Posted December 07, 2017 at 14:09:43

“An advanced city is not a place where the poor move about in cars, rather it’s where even the rich use public transportation”

Pretty much sums it up.

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted December 10, 2017 at 19:24:52

I don't want to rub salt in a open wound but get your, you know what in order Hamilton! Your council is letting you down by dithering with meeting dates. Make a decision to join the LRT club or not.

Next week Ottawa opens the latest section of our transitway from Bayshore to Moodie Drive. This section will be converted to LRT as part of the Stage 2 Program in early 2020.

Meanwhile at Belfast Yard, work has already started on the expansion of the LRV Storage Shed/Barn for stage 2 and stage 1 isn't finished yet.

Earlier this week we had the second public meeting for the expansion of the LRT network into Kanata (stage 3). No funding yet and unless we get more from the provincial and federal government, it won't open until after 2031 but it's moving forward anyway. We will have the route planned out at the least. Then there is the extension to Gatineau across the Prince of Wales Railway Bridge to still deal with.

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