Special Report: Light Rail

More Head-Scratching LRT Responses From Mayor Bratina

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.

Bratina replied:

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.

It took me all of five seconds to look up "Tallinn free transit" on Google. The first result was to a page on the official website of Tallinn, which states:

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.

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 wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By brendansimons (registered) | Posted July 24, 2014 at 18:15:07

I agree that Bratina has squandered his authority on this file, and it's shameful that he feels entitled to conduct secret meetings on the matter. On the bright? side, Toronto politics has taught us that no matter what happens in one term, long-laid transit plans can shift quickly on the winds of political whim. We'll certainly revisit this after the new mayor takes office.

In Bob's limited defense, this part: "LRT service on the B-line corridor would actually be less frequent than what is now in place." is probably true. LRT vehicles are much bigger. If we're going to realize the operational cost savings of LRT, it will mean running few vehicles, each holding more passengers than the current system of #10/1/5x busses. I don't think waiting a few more minutes for a more comfortable vehicle will be a severe burden though, and it the impact will be reduced through the elimination of redundant routes.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted July 24, 2014 at 19:55:44

the public has not "clamoured" for LRT

In fact, there has been unprecedented public consultation on LRT with overwhelming community support. Looks like clamouring to me.

I also don't recall getting any opportunity to participate in any public consultation about our present car dominated transportation system. That was just rammed down my throat, along with all the car driver's lethal pollution.

How about a public consultation before we continue to tolerate the following:

Car drivers poison and kill 93 people in Hamilton each year. Also, a 10-year average for people being crushed and killed by car drivers is 19.2 people. Giving a total body count of over 112 people killed by car drivers in Hamilton every year.

Additionally, 395 people are injured so seriously by being poisoned by car drivers in Hamilton every year that they have to be hospitalized.

Children, the elderly and hospital patients are particularly vulnerable to being poisoned by car drivers. Every year in Hamilton children suffer 15,510 asthma symptom days and an additional 279 children suffer acute bronchitis attacks due to being poisoned by car drivers. Health care costs due to people being poisoned by car drivers are $511 million every year in Hamilton.

I don't remember having an opportunity to participate in a public consultation to ask if I was OK with all this death and injury and with car drivers launching lethal cancer poison attacks upon myself and my children.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted July 25, 2014 at 06:23:51 in reply to Comment 103472

Looks like clamouring to me.

From dictionary.com:

clam·or1 [klam-er]

noun 1.a loud uproar, as from a crowd of people: the clamor of the crowd at the gates.

  1. a vehement expression of desire or dissatisfaction: the clamor of the proponents of the law.

  2. popular outcry: The senators could not ignore the clamor against higher taxation.

  3. any loud and continued noise: the clamor of traffic; the clamor of birds and animals in the zoo.

So yes, there is clamour, from LRT proponents. Go into the suburbs, where the bulk of this city lives, and ask them their opinion on LRT. They either won't have one, or don't care about it. Some will, most won't.

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By DissenterOfThings (registered) | Posted July 25, 2014 at 09:40:53 in reply to Comment 103489


‘DowntownInHamilton’ has replied or commented on this post. It is a troll software virus not a person. Do not engage with it. Do not reply. Do not acknowledge. You risk infecting others if you do.

This has been a public service announcement in service of humanity.

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted July 25, 2014 at 07:39:43 in reply to Comment 103489

That is a matter of opinion. That definition exactly describes what you and one or two others are doing on this site against LRT. Since you need the last word, let me reply in advance ... "cool story bro. tell it again."

Everyone else ... don't decay into shouting at each other. One or two posters would love to drive the nice folk on this site crazy. Don't fall for it!

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By YHMDesigns (registered) - website | Posted July 24, 2014 at 20:45:58

Minister Del Duca's not coming into this meeting with virgin ears. Ted McMeekin and others will have briefed him. And if representing a government publicly committed to transit, then you're prepared for all the "war on the car" excuses. The best outcome here is an agreement to follow through on everyone's commitments (i.e. the City supporting LRT and the Province paying for it ... is that so hard?). The worst outcome (realistically) is the Province punting until after the municipal election. We'll get something in between.

You know what will happen once LRT is built in Hamilton? People will like it. They will use it. And they will be thankful they don't have to drive everywhere ...

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By Stinson (registered) | Posted July 24, 2014 at 22:03:20

Peggy, what happened to Bob Bratina's Campaign Promise (i copied his site the day he won): Economic Development - As Mayor, Bob will... Work with all levels of government to bring Light Rail Transit to Hamilton

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By redmike (registered) | Posted July 24, 2014 at 23:25:54 in reply to Comment 103475

if you want to reach peggy you should be at the hamiltonian. from peggys mouth to di falcos keyboard, any amd all pro bob bratina spin thats not fit to print.

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