Literally 24 hours after Mayor Bob Bratina appeared for a full hour on the Bill Kelly Show, Councillor Lloyd Ferguson spent nearly 15 minutes with Bill this morning.
What a difference a day makes. Whereas Bratina chose not to mention anything about cutting LRT staff from six or seven to just one, although he knew of Chris Murray's "I'm-in-charge" email sent on the eve of his vacation, Lloyd Ferguson, in 15 minutes, added a ton of clarity, not to mention good information, to the debate.
Have a read of what Lloyd said and contrast it with what Bob said on the same topic the day before on the same show. You decide who you think was more transparent, thoughtful, direct.
It's no secret that Lloyd and I don't see eye-to-eye on heritage, specifically not how he viewed the heritage of Hamilton's City Hall. Having said that, you have to give the guy his due when it comes to discussing project planning and setting priorities. So, I tip my hat to Lloyd for his contribution to the current LRT debate.
Councillor Ferguson on Chris Murray's pre-vacation email.
I'm puzzled by the process that was followed. I know we're on summer recess, but we did have a General Issue Committee meeting just two weeks ago tomorrow and it wasn't even on the radar screen at that meeting. Typically when you make strategic decisions, first of all it's done by Council and not by the City Manager and the Mayor alone, and it comes in the form of a staff report with their recommendations. But we never had that, we simply got an email from the City Manager that he was re-assigning the employees, all but one, into other areas other than LRT. So, I'm not sure what that means and I would have loved to have had a conversation with Chris because the email came from him but he went off on vacation.....[Murray's email] just came out of nowhere.
Councillor Ferguson on the LRT study process.
I know from my previous life that you cannot put a value on something until you have at least a 30% design. You gotta know where it's gonna go, where the stations are, what utilities are in the way. And that's the decision point, when we have that 30% design, then we're able to put some numbers to it and then turn to our partners in the Province, particularly Metrolinx, who are, everything I've seen and heard are very keen on the project, and say, OK what percentage are you going to fund?
I'm not sure we should be taking our foot off the gas pedal. I'm not sure (if this is what is happening). You read the email and re-assigning the staff would indicate that. But clearly I think the next step would be to go back to Metrolinx and say, OK we need this much more funding to continue the program and we haven't done that yet to my knowledge. If we're running out of money, if that's the issue in doing the studies, then Council needs to be made aware of that, so we can turn to our provincial partners, turn to Metrolinx and say that we'd like to continue to the next steps.
Councillor Ferguson on how he feels about Chris Murray's email
Before I form an opinion, I want to at least have an opportunity to talk to the City Manager. This is way out of character. There's something happening that maybe we're not aware of. I would think that should be a decision of Council to decide whether we're going to re-assign all the staff to somewhere else.....It's a strategic decision. Quite frankly, I'm not sure Metrolinx would ever consider giving you more money if you don't ask for it, and we haven't done that to my knowledge.
Councillor Ferguson on what Councillors know currently about the LRT process.
I had a visit from the LRT staff, from Jill Stephens, and I'm looking forward to hearing her on your show if you can get her on later, I had a visit from her about a month ago just to give us an update where it's at and it allowed us to ask questions, but that was in the privacy of our own offices. It's time for us to have a public presentation on this to let the public know where we're at so we all get the same facts, we're all singing from the same song sheet. For some reason this has skipped around that, and we just need to find out why.
Councillor Ferguson on managing priorities and costs
Costs are always the pinch point, and what is the real number, and what's the level of funding we're getting from the other two levels of government. I mean, we've got a lot of big things on our plate right now, right from the stadium getting that built, to this new medical facility downtown, and the majority of Council decided to blow up HECFI so we've got that to deal with, you know the velodrome meeting has been cancelled twice now. We're hearing about the location and the costs around that. And of course our roads get a D minus. So, we've got a lot of items we have to deal with, so we just need to get stickie notes up on the wall for every one of them and decide where our priorities lie.
We don't know the costs and we have all these demands in front of us. There's certainly a clear feeling within the majority of Council that we want to keep tax levels low and so that's striking this balance.
If Metrolinx come along and say, yes we agree it's $850 million, if that's the number, and we'll pay 100% of the capital costs and you've got to pay the operating costs, that makes it very appealing. But, if they come along and say, no City, similar to Waterloo, you've got to put $100 or @200 million dollars into this, that's going to be a problem.
Councillor Ferguson on the value to the City of LRT
In my own particular case, I represent the people of Ancaster. LRT won't do anything for Ancaster except raise their taxes and congest the roads that they come in on in the morning, if you're gonna take one or two lanes out of Main Street which is going to back traffic out onto 403. But, is it the right thing for the whole City? Probably, if the funding level is right. These are the things we have to sort out. If the City has to put a big whack of capital dollars into this, I think that's a show stopper, based on all of the projects I just recited to you.
Councillor Ferguson on the economic impact of LRT
I want to tell your listeners that I was somewhat cynical about it (LRT) when it first came up because it did nothing for Ancaster, and Gerry Davis pushed and pushed and pushed me to go on a road show down to Charlotte, Portland and Calgary and it was a real eye-opener because it does have economic development uptick. You very clearly saw that in Charlotte. Talking to senior staff in Charlotte they said that after this thing opened developers who bought up old, derelict buildings would come to them and say can you put another station by my building and we'll pay for it. So there is very significant economic development uptake.
There's also a very futuristic look. It takes you to a new millennium.
And more importantly is the operating costs. It costs the City of Hamilton right now approximately $2.50 every time a passenger steps onto a bus. 50% of that comes from the fare box and the other 50% comes from the taxpayer. We found out that in pretty much all three of [the cities visited], certainly in Calgary which is another Canadian city, the operating costs went down by 90% to 25 cents per passenger. And the reason for that is the guy sitting in the driver's seat is the most expensive part of operating a transit system and he's carrying 300 people instead of 40 people as he or she goes down the street.
The second highest cost is fuel. Buses burn diesel and these trains use electricity and the costs are significantly less for fuel.
And third most expensive item is insurance. Insurance is significantly less when you have a train running down a dedicated track buried from traffic and you don't have these buses making thousands of movements in and out of traffic all day long.
So, for those three reasons operating costs come down significantly, which would be very appealing for us to take a look at.
Councillor Ferguson on what Council does not know.
I know and you know Council has not been debriefed by staff on this yet. And I think you have seen a copy of the email that Chris put out last week before he was gone on vacation. I have seen nothing more than that other than what I read in the Spectator and hear on CHML, and so I'm looking forward to getting more information on this also.
This whole last week, you know it seems a little autocratic the way its come down. I always thought all-day GO was going ahead. The Mayor has been a big advocate for all-day GO for a number of years when he was Councillor for Ward 2. He was a big advocate for the station at LIUNA station. I assumed that was all running its path through Metrolinx. I didn't know we were into an either or thing either. That's why it sounds just a little autocratic, but we need to sort this out at our first GIC meeting coming up in the first week of August.
I didn't know all-day GO was not moving forward. I knew they were moving forward with the electrification with GO and with the all-day service into Hamilton was my understanding and if I'm wrong, I need to find that out.
Councillor Ferguson on multi-tasking.
As a construction guy I used to have 180 projects working at once. As you saw with the stadium, the medical facility, the velodrome, our roads and HECFI, we have a lot of things on the go at the same time and you have to manage them all and you have to manage expectations and that turns around what's the cost.
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