Special Report: Light Rail

LRT Divide is Based on Ideology, Not Facts

Government spending is about demonstrating values. The discussion around the LRT project is no different.

By Ian Borsuk
Published April 05, 2017

As we approach yet another contested Light Rail Transit (LRT) council meeting that is bound to be jam-packed with deputations by people arguing both for and against the project, the discussion has turned into a flurry of facts, statistics and numbers.

Those in the Yes LRT camp can confidently back up their positions with said facts and numbers, and they are doing so, while the No LRT side relies mostly on speculation - or as some would call it, FUD.

While these discussions around the specific details of the project are certainly important, I fear Hamilton will lose out on this transit project because those on the Yes side aren't making a strong enough case based on values.

To put it frankly, much (if not most) of the opposition to the LRT project is ideological. It's not a coincidence that many who have spoken out against the project online and in council chambers are the type to crusade against Big Government of all kinds, or to describe taxation as someone "taking my money".

When either side of the LRT issue uses facts and figures, they aren't using them because the data is what influences their position, they're using them because it reinforces their position.

The LRT project will drastically change downtown Hamilton. This is the basic fact we can all agree upon. The No LRT argument for many is based on the belief that this change will be bad.

The idea that government (it doesn't matter which) would spend a billion dollars to intensify the downtown core, and all the changes that go along with that, is simply something they cannot agree with.

It's important to note that the arguments against LRT often are the same arguments that come about when we talk about bike lanes, traffic calming, social programs, and so on.

It's also important to note that the main alternative transportation vision that LRT opponents bring up is based on free-market innovation completely devoid of any government involvement.

It doesn't matter that Hamilton (unlike other cities, such as Toronto) has done zero research on self-driving vehicles in any capacity. It also doesn't matter Ontario is the only region in the country to have a currently-approved automated vehicle pilot project, which won't be over until 2027 (three years after the LRT would be fully functional).

All that matters is those who are opposed to the project find it more appealing to bank on a speculative techno-utopian future than doing the hard work now to ensure Hamilton grows sustainably.

The best strategy that those on the Yes LRT side can take is to continue to bring in and amplify new voices. This has begun to happen. I've already received confirmation that first-time delegates have registered for April 19 who will be speaking in favour of the project.

We need to do more to appeal to those who are not inherently, ideologically opposed to LRT. As one councillor has said about the budgetary process, government spending is about demonstrating values. The discussion around this project is no different.

Ian Borsuk is a young community organizer and activist. He is a Climate Campaign Coordinator at Environment Hamilton.


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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted April 05, 2017 at 08:42:02

It's also important to note that the main alternative transportation vision that LRT opponents bring up is based on free-market innovation completely devoid of any government involvement.

Perhaps Ian is seeing a "main alternative transportation vision" of LRT opponents that I am not. What I am seeing is nothing but the status quo, perhaps tweaked with self-driving cars. This status quo is, of course, based upon massive government involvement and subsidy. This includes the supporting engineering infrastructure of roads, signals, etc, of which we have a huge repair deficit. It also includes provision of police, fire and ambulance services to police car drivers and pick up the pieces when they misbehave. It also includes $500 million in annual health care costs to treat the 93 people killed and over 400 people seriously injured by the fine particle lethal cancer poison attacks launched by motor vehicle drivers upon the people of Hamilton.

Self-driving cars may reduce the annual number of 16 people crushed and killed by motor vehicle operators in Hamilton every year. But make no difference or (yikes!) even increase the far larger number of 93 people viciously poisoned and killed by motor vehicle operators every year.

Comment edited by KevinLove on 2017-04-05 08:48:37

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By iancborsuk (registered) - website | Posted April 05, 2017 at 10:04:48 in reply to Comment 121091

Very good point here Kevin. I should clarify, I was more referring to the attitude people have about self-driving vehicles. In that they'll require no real change but solve all our problems. Which you have easily pointed out the flaws in.

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By Wholesome (registered) | Posted April 05, 2017 at 13:37:51

Those in the Yes LRT camp can confidently back up their positions with said facts and numbers, and they are doing so, while the No LRT side relies mostly on speculation - or as some would call it, FUD.

Really? And people are supposed to read and agree with your "unbiased" article.

There are many reasons I don't like LRT. Elimination of existing bike lanes and widening of other roadways are only a couple.

Don't group all anti-LRT as old and rural. I am a young professional. Born and raised in Hamilton and I now live downtown.

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted April 05, 2017 at 15:48:55 in reply to Comment 121099

If you need a positive, keep in mind that 80% of the total cost of the project will be put toward infrastructure repair and replacement. This was confirmed by council at the General Issues Committee on March 28th. So, we can expect over 700 million dollars in new sewer, water and electricity along the line and a huge chunk taken out of our current infrastructure deficit.

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By Deleted User (anonymous) | Posted April 05, 2017 at 20:58:19

The real issue is that LRT advocates can't provide any facts and figures including the cost to operate the LRT. Let alone who pays. And what of declining HSR ridership? Isn't that a fact? It's straight from the HSR. Here's another figure: 60% increase of traffic on Aberdeen. Is that also not true? Honestly, your article is just rude and ignorant. If the views don't agree with yours then it's FUD. Sure dude. Whatever you say. You know because you're right and anyone with another opinion is fearmongering and wrong. I'm a young Hamilton professional too. Pedestrian and cyclist. Don't have a license. I've used the HSR all my life. I can't for the life of me determine what problem the LRT solves. There certainly isn't a billion dollar +yearly operation cost -HSR revenues problem. Is it a problem of capacity? HSR ridership is down. Is it a problem of pollution? Then why widen car lanes on Dundurn and remove bike lanes? Is it a problem of ... I'm fresh out of ideas. What is the problem? The only problem LRT solves is providing excess capacity at a greater cost with ugly overhead wires to boot. LRT solves that trifecta perfectly.

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted April 05, 2017 at 22:12:10 in reply to Comment 121104

So, this is the sixth or seventh - kinda lost count - time you've mentioned the bike lanes being removed without including the fact that alternative lanes are being studied. The bike lanes will be replaced.

You've also mentioned numerous times that the cost to run it haven't been determined after being informed over and over that no one will know until the operating agreement is signed. That's how it works. If council doesn't like the agreement they won't vote for it.

You've also left out the fact that 80% of the cost will be put towards much needed infrastructure replacement. That solves a few problems.

Also, someone might want to correct me but I believe Aberdeen is overbuilt as it is? It's only 1.5km long, 4 lanes, and almost always empty except for rush hour. Will a 60% increase in traffic create any huge issue there? Clr Johnson said he is putting the road diet on hold (yes they were going to do that because the road is currently under utilized) due to the expected increase in traffic.

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By Chris Angel (registered) | Posted April 06, 2017 at 05:15:50 in reply to Comment 121105

"You've also mentioned numerous times that the cost to run it haven't been determined after being informed over and over that no one will know until the operating agreement is signed."

I have no doubt you are right but there is no reason for this to be the way "it works". No business or individual I know would sign on to anything that required contractual commitment before the seller revealed operating cost. In any other context this would be outrageous.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted April 06, 2017 at 05:51:13 in reply to Comment 121107

The context here is that the City of Hamilton and Metrolinx have committed to building LRT based on a careful evaluation of the benefits and an estimate of the operating costs given in the 2013 Rapid Ready report prepared by the city (and the 2010 Metrolinx Benefits Case Analysis).

As you rightly point out, no contract will be signed with the "seller" (i.e. the operator/builder) until an agreement on costs is worked out. This will likely involve some net cost sharing between Metrolinx (who will own the asset) and the City. But, again, the City and Metrolinx have already decided that the likely net levy cost is reasonable. Of course, the net cost will also depend on fare revenue and other factors which will change over time, but the Rapid Ready report explicitly used conservative estimates for ridership growth.

A better analogy might be that an individual will decide to build a house, or start a business, based on estimates of costs and benefits long before signing contracts with all suppliers or employees. And often these "sellers" will not guarantee a cost over the period of the contract, so there is still uncertainty. (Certainty commands a big cost premium!) For example, the house builder won't know the cost of utilities or taxes five years from now, but that doesn't stop people building houses. Even the capital cost is not known in advance since mortgage interest rates change.

We have a 30% engineering design, which allows us to accurately evaluate the capital costs (as Councillor Ferguson pointed out). And we have estimates of net operating costs, which can be made more precise now we have the example of K-W's system. This is the basis on which Metrolinx and the city will negotiate with builders/operators.

No large infrastructure projects would ever get built if we required 100% certainty about every aspect of construction and future operating costs at the beginning of the process. That's why the City and Metrolinx spent many years doing analysis, planning and modelling of the project to have high confidence it would be a success.

And we mustn't forget that the Province has taken on all the construction cost risk, a much better deal than what K-W got!

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2017-04-06 06:03:26

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