Through his consistent pattern of misinformation, the mayor has utterly squandered any moral authority to speak on Hamilton's behalf with respect to LRT.
By Ryan McGreal
Published July 24, 2014
Mayor Bob Bratina continues to respond to Hamilton residents who are sending statements of support for LRT to Council and the Province, and Bratina's responses continue to leave people scratching their heads.
A pattern seems to be emerging in how the mayor responds to letters: some people just receive a copy-pasta response, while others receive the same response but with an additional customized note included at the top.
Given both his stock response and his individual replies, it seems Bratina is willing to say just about anything to try and argue against the case for LRT.
One resident wrote about having lived in Vancouver when that city built the Skytrain, a 1980s-era LRT technology that was originally planned to be built in Hamilton, but which our council of the time rejected. Bratina replied:
I travelled to Vancouver every year for over 20 years beginning in 1981, as broadcaster for either the Tiger Cats or Argos, depending on which City I worked in at the time. I also emceed Ontario Day at Expo 86 which was the catalyst for a number of City enhancements including the Skytrain system. About a year ago I had a meeting with Translink officials in Toronto with some of their transit officials. The main message out of that was funding problems, especially with regard to maintenance which has reared a very ugly head in the past couple of days with regard to Skytrain reliability.
Bratina is referring to two recent Skytrain service disruptions, one last Thursday and one this past Monday. Ironically, Skytrain is widely renowned for its extremely high reliability and service frequency, coupled with a relatively low operating cost of around $1.12 per passenger.
Also, bear in mind that the oldest sections of Skytrain date back 30 years and the system is due for some capital refurbishments/upgrades.
Nevertheless, there is no question that Skytrain has been vastly transformational for Vancouver. Very few people would try to argue that it has not been a huge overall benefit to the city.
No system is perfect. Bratina might as well point to Tuesday evening's traffic jam when Main Street was closed for a fire at Landmark Place as an argument against car ownership.
The same writer, who owns a small business west of downtown and near the rapid transit route, extolled the possibiliy of an LRT stop near their business. Bratina's response addressed this point as well:
I commend your business acumen with regard to location, but transit decisions obviously must encompass many needs. The East end of Hamilton, where I grew up, is somewhat different than your business neighbourhood. In fact I have lived through my 70 years in five different wards of the City which gives helpful insights into the mobility habits of residents.
I'm not aware that any part of the city can be considered a "business neighbourhood" - though business is certainly better in some parts of the city than others. One major corollary benefit of LRT is that it significantly boosts neighbourhood retail business in the service area around the line.
Another resident pointed out that as the population of senior citizens increases, high quality public transit will become more important as people find themselves unable to continue driving due to age-related illness. Similarly, young people are becoming steadily less interested in vehicle ownership and more interested in multi-modal urban mobility.
Your point on the aging demographic puts too much emphasis on the infirm. Seniors who drive cherish their operator's licence. My late father in law was angry when at the age of 93 he was required to stop driving. There are many reasons why seniors favour their own automobile for transportation, and I urge you to do more investigation into that issue, since it affects so many Hamiltonians.
So Bratina's response to a letter arguing that the number of seniors who cannot drive is expected to increase is to argue that seniors love to drive and cite the anecdote of a senior who is no longer allowed to drive in support of that statement.
Several residents have cited a desire to improve transit service along the busy east-west B-Line, which suffers from overcrowded buses and regular "pass-bys" when full buses pass people waiting at stops. In response to this, Bratina has written:
LRT service on the B-line corridor would actually be less frequent than what is now in place.
Is the mayor actually suggesting that LRT service will somehow be worse than bus service?
One resident argued that in addition to building LRT, Hamilton should consider making transit free for residents, similar to the municipality of Tallinn in Estonia, a city of 430,000. Bratina replied:
Thank you for your message. The notion of Fare Free transit is an interesting one, mostly seen in North American systems in portions of the downtown such as Buffalo's.
However my understanding is that Talinn transit is not free.
From the beginning of January 2013, Tallinn is the first capital in the EU to provide free public transport to its citizens.
To be entitled to freely use public transport in Tallinn, citizens of Tallinn have to purchase the so-called 'green card' (EUR 2) and personalise it. People from outside Tallinn can also buy the 'green card' which enables them to load the needed amount of money to use public transport.
Since the implementation of free public transport, a significant increase of the number of registered Tallinners can be observed.
Yet again, on the eve of a critically important meeting with the Ontario Transport Minister, we find ourselves in an astounding situation in which the Mayor and Chief Magistrate of the City of Hamilton appears to be just making things up in his incomprehensible quest to discredit the strong, evidence-based case for LRT and dismiss the contributions of engaged citizens.
It would be bad enough if this was an abberration, but it is consistent with Bratina's behaviour toward the City's LRT plan since not long after he began his mayoral term.
This is the same mayor who has said that LRT was not a council priority, that LRT would only make sense if a million people moved to Hamilton, that we would have to choose between LRT and all-day GO service to James Street, that we would have to choose between LRT and all-day GO service to Stoney Creek, that Charlotte NC's modern LRT system is "kind of an old-fashioned quaint trolley to connect to their waterfront", that he doesn't know where new development might go along the B-Line route, that the public has not "clamoured" for LRT, that developers have not expressed interest in LRT, that the City's LRT plan is not an LRT plan, that we need to build ridership on the B-Line before it can support LRT, and that he would begin to champion the LRT plan after Council formally approved it in February 2013.
Challenged by CHML's Bill Kelly this year on whether he has, in fact, championed the plan, he replied, "Well, I'm not a champion of very much in life," which is at least unambiguously true.
Even if he was not in the final few months of a one-term mayoralty (he announced earlier this year he would not run for re-election, though he has recently mused that he might change his mind), Bratina has utterly squandered any moral authority to speak on the city's behalf with respect to LRT.
Make sure Bratina's comments - whatever they are in his private meeting with the Transport Minister - are not the final word on LRT in Hamilton.
Please take a moment to add your statement of support to the citizen campaign for an LRT funding commitment.
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