Comment 51704

By seancb (registered) - website | Posted November 16, 2010 at 22:26:09

Bob, I agree with your points about a wary approach especially when it comes to capital expenditures. This is why I have a different idea about phasing for LRT. A couple of points that you overlooked in my opinion...

I will assume that we can agree that a functional and useful transit system is an essential serice for a real city. That is to say we cannot eliminate transit costs entirely.

My first point is about tracks being an operating cost. This is true, of course-it falls under maintenance. Proper planning would eliminate surprises (huge expenditures in one year for example). A huge difference with buses is that the maintenance cost of the travelling surface is already being burdened by taxpayers, and is not brought into the maintenance calculation. Your post implies that roads are only 'completely replaced' once per generation, but tracks need to be replaced every 10 years. This is entirely inaccurate if it is indeed what you meant to say. Anyone who has taken a close look on streets heavily travelled by buses (especially at the stops - where more buses travel in the exact same lanes) can see the additional burden they put on our streets. When comparing rail versus rubber, we easily overlook this cost since "we pay it anyway" (road maintenance). It would be interesting to see calculations regarding the true additional cost buses create in the yearly road maintenance budget.

My second point is about the need. There are certain routes upon which hamilton does need significant transit improvement from a ridership standpoint. East/west is the biggie. Ridership numbers along this route are already near the numbers which justify light rail. It is certainly not a stretch to project increases in ridership after installation. On this route, even a modest ridership increase will bring us well into the proper range for LRT justification.

Regarding development, I don't think anyone who has seriously considered LRT for Hamilton has claimed that LRT alone will spur development. It is a package deal that requires proper transit oriented development zoning. Luckily, the city's rapid transit office understands this need and is incorporating it into the studies and planning. I would love to see development before laying tracks, but unfortunately it has been shown to simply not work that way. As you said, developers will wait for the "perfect storm" before signing cheques, and the rails are a huge part of the requirements (if we are shooting for transit oriented development).

Another point that is completely missed in your post is the rising cost of hydrocarbons. If we continue to purchase buses and expand our system with vehicles and routes that rely on on-board combustion engines, we are going to be tying our transit costs to the cost of oil for the foreseeable future. Before anyone accuses me of crying "peak oil", please consider that the cost of gasoline is rising and there is no reason to believe it will fall. Gas is simply not going to get cheaper. Whether or not we have reached peak oil - whether or not peak oil even exists - I think that we can all rationally agree that oil prices will not only climb, but the rate at which they climb will also increase. Tying a new transit system to this volatile pricing is bad fiscal planning period.

Hamilton will be upgrading and expanding its transit system. There is no doubt about it. So we need to think long and hard about how we do it. If we expand simply by buying more buses, we are committing to a vehicular generation of rising oil costs, high maintenance costs and a real risk of not being able to meet ridership demands. IF we build BRT, we will be committing to an even longer timespan of rubber and oil based transit. We need to do this right the first time, and I think that there are some routes where LRT is a must.

Having said all that, I do personally question the current LRT plan. I think the first step should be to determine what the minimum track length is to justify building the infrastructure, buying trains and providing storage/maintenance facilities. THen we need to decide if the ridership projections (over say the next 10 years) justify building that minimum amount. If so, then we should green light LRT but only on the routes which justify it based on these projections. I do not have the means to provide these numbers, but my gut tells me that Hamilton could easily justify LRT from mac to wentworth on ridership numbers alone. My gut tells me we cannot justify traversing the escarpment yet (or maybe ever if they are serious about building that godforsaken tunnel). My gut tells me that servicing the airport would be a mistake this early on. My gut tells me that a small loop downtown would be much more useful to many more people than trying to build out the a-line too early. But regardless of my gut, we need to make our transit decisions based upon all of the evidence before us. We can't afford to selectively ignore things like rising oil prices, which will be a huge deal in driving bus operating costs up and driving more people from cars to transit.

My vision is that we build our system with a smalland efficient LRT where we know we will need it over the next decade. WHen it is successful, we will more easily justify expanding tracks where necessary. I agree that we cannot afford to blow a ton of cash on building a huge sprawling system all at once. But luckily, LRT (unlike the stadium or aegd for example) is a project that can be built in a rational, phased manner.

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