Special Report: Light Rail

Time to Fight for Fair LRT Deal

Mayor Bratina and Council need to have a "focused discussion" on why Metrolinx and the Province seem ready to offer Hamilton a much worse LRT funding deal than they gave to Toronto.

By Nicholas Kevlahan
Published August 28, 2012

Is Hamilton prepared to fight for the same Light Rail Transit (LRT) deal as Toronto?

We now know that the TTC and City of Toronto are being asked by Metrolinx to contribute precisely nothing towards the costs of building and equipping their four line 52km Crosstown LRT.

The only point still being negotiated is whether or not Toronto will pay anything towards the operation of the lines.

Perhaps it is indeed a good time for Hamilton's Mayor and Council to have a "focused discussion", not on whether Hamilton can afford LRT, but on why Metrolinx and the Province seem to be getting ready to offer Hamilton a much worse deal than they offered Toronto - a deal we won't accept.

Fair Share of Funding

One of the most important jobs of our Mayor and Council is to ensure that Hamilton gets its fair share of Provincial funding. LRT is an issue that is worth billions in direct funding and indirect economic uplift to the City.

Surely, this merits more than vague assurances that everything is going according to plan, and repeated efforts to lower expectations!

Remember, that the total funding provided by Metrolinx for Toronto's Crosstown LRT project is $8.4 billion, over eight times the estimated cost of Hamilton's B-line. Toronto is also pushing for even more funding from the Province for other transit projects.

Now, why wouldn't Metrolinx or the Ministry of Transport simply confirm Toronto's deal instead of being evasive? We finally had to go directly to a Toronto City Councillor to get a straight answer.

Metrolinx Funding Model

When I was on the City of Hamilton's Rapid Transit Citizens Advisory Committee (RTCAC), it was clear that staff had been told by Metrolinx that their funding model was to pay all direct capital costs, and Metrolinx would in turn own and operate the system.

That is precisely what they are doing in Toronto.

I'd like to see how the Province can claim with a straight face to be keeping their 2007 promise and election pitch to build two LRT lines in Hamilton.

The Province and Mayor Bratina later claimed that they had not followed through since the projects would need to be approved by Metrolinx.

However, Metrolinx demonstrated a large net benefit from LRT in the February 2010 Benefits Case Analysis, and the City has essentially completed the 30 percent engineering design showing feasibility.

Funding Decision

All that remains is the funding decision, which is ultimately up to the Provincial government that now makes all funding decisions for Metrolinx.

If Metrolinx says "no" next year, it will be on the basis of higher priorities elsewhere, or because they were told by the Ministry not to recommend Hamilton's LRT.

If the Government of Ontario says "no", it will also be on the basis of higher funding priorities elsewhere (i.e. in Toronto and Kitchener-Waterloo).

But that is precisely what the original promise was supposed to address: that the Province would make Hamilton's two LRT lines a priority for funding in the short term. After all, the B-Line was the second item in the Regional Transportation Plan's list of top priority projects.

If not, what did they think their promises actually meant?

Nicholas Kevlahan was born and raised in Vancouver, and then spent eight years in England and France before returning to Canada in 1998. He has been a Hamiltonian since then, and is a strong believer in the potential of this city. Although he spends most of his time as a mathematician, he is also a passionate amateur urbanist and a fan of good design. You can often spot him strolling the streets of the downtown, shopping at the Market. Nicholas is the spokesperson for Hamilton Light Rail.

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By hammerbooster (anonymous) | Posted August 28, 2012 at 11:11:10

Damn right, it's about time our brave leader figures out he's supposed to be fighting for Hamilton in Queens Park, not fighting for Queens Park in Hamilton!

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By Sid (anonymous) | Posted August 28, 2012 at 11:32:54

What does council have to say about this? After there strong stand against Bratina I hope they won't roll over on this one.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted August 28, 2012 at 11:50:42

Cue TreyS taking a dig at NDP voters.....NOW

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By LOL (registered) | Posted August 28, 2012 at 16:24:23

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted August 30, 2012 at 09:06:12 in reply to Comment 80120

I don't agree with this comment but I thought it was a very good comment.

There are significant differences in transit needs and architecture between Toronto and Hamilton. In my view that's not enough to say we shouldn't have LRT funded on an equal basis; we have the population size and density to make LRT work and a clear need, especially once a proper two-way street conversion is done to boost the livability of streets, for an LRT type solution.

BRT would work, in my view, maybe not as well but certainly more cheaply, if we decided to keep the one-way monstrosities. We shouldn't, I don't think it's even an option, and that makes LRT the right solution.

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By calvinhc (anonymous) | Posted September 09, 2012 at 12:21:40 in reply to Comment 80178

BRT does cost less than LRT, but only in capital costs. Once built, BRT is significantly more expensive to operate for the same capacity requirements.

Any money coming from higher levels of government will ONLY be for capital costs. Higher levels of government never contribute to operating costs.

If the corridor warrants higher capacity, BRT's initial construction cost will leave the municipality with a greater operating cost year after year. It is better to spend a little more, where the province chips in to ease that cost, and be left with a system that costs less to operate.

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted August 30, 2012 at 13:49:18 in reply to Comment 80178

Thank you for the kind words. My comments are routinely criticized and disagreed with on this site no matter how much sense they make.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted August 28, 2012 at 17:28:21 in reply to Comment 80120

Once again, the benefits case analysis (BCA) specifically compared LRT with BRT and found LRT had a significantly larger net benefit.

There are many reasons why LRT, although more expensive than BRT, is a more prudent investment. This is why many other cities are investing in LRT and Ottawa is now trying to move away from BRT on newer projects. The BRT v LRT has been extensively discussed here and elsewhere over the past five years.

I do agree, however, that Metrolinx's cost estimates are very high. Grenoble (France) is currently building its fifth line at a cost of $33 million per km, http://www.smtc-grenoble.org/?, about five times cheaper than Metrolinx's estimates for the Crosstown LRT in Toronto.

Given that French labour and raw materials costs are higher (and the street layout is often more challenging), it is mystery why Metrolinx's estimates are so much higher.

Note that greater Grenoble has a population slightly smaller than Hamilton's...and they've been regularly expanding their LRT network since the first line opened in 1987 because of the obvious economic benefits it's brought.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2012-08-28 17:30:35

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By LOL_LOL (anonymous) | Posted August 30, 2012 at 13:53:30 in reply to Comment 80122

Who did the BCA? Oh wait it was done by Metrolinx the people responsible for spending billions of taxpayer dollars on LRT and other transit. How could any of their studies find any thing else? Call me a cynic if you must but I do not believe.

The surgeon will always tell you that surgery is your best option.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted August 30, 2012 at 15:26:02 in reply to Comment 80238

We were talking about brt v lrt. Metrolinx does both, and they have no vested interested in favouring one over the other for Hamilton.

In fact, supporting brt for Hamilton would help Metrolinx because they could spend the 'extra' money elsewhere!

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted August 30, 2012 at 13:45:23 in reply to Comment 80122

Grenoble has a population a lot smaller than Hamilton. The city is tiny with an area of 18 km2. Something that small transit can not only work but make money.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted August 30, 2012 at 15:22:19 in reply to Comment 80234

Please check your facts and decide whether you actually know anything about the subject you're commenting on before replying.

I've written extensively about Grenoble in the past because I know that city and its transit development history very well. A simple search on RTH would have told you that I've already addressed all these points

For your information, here is a copy of my reply to another anonymous poster called 'Mr Meister' from last year: http://raisethehammer.org/comment/67569

Mr Meister,

I know I shouldn't reply, since I doubt you are really interested in learning about the urban transit systems in France, but you are deliberately distorting the data.

I compared the urban agglomeration populations, which are the areas served by LRT (and directly comparable to the urban area of the City of Hamilton), and so we need to compare the areas of the respective agglomerations.

It is important to note that the French subdivide their cities much more finely than we do here, which is why the central city has a small area and relatively small population compared to the agglomeration. It is as if each Hamilton Ward were a separate municipality. For example, my in-laws live in Poisat, which is a part of greater Grenoble, contiguous with it, but has a population of only 2081.

Here are the areas of some of the agglomerations served by LRT in the cities you mentioned, which you could have easily looked up yourself (google agglomeration angers superficie, etc)

Angers 510km^2 http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communaut%C...

Bordeaux 551.88 km^2 http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communaut%C...

Caen 184.69 km^2 http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communaut%C...

Clermont-Ferrand 300.62km^2 http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clermont_Co...

Grenoble 307.07 km^2 http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communaut%C... http://www.semitag.com/ (website of the transit system for greater Grenoble)

Nantes 523.36 km^2 http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nantes_M%C3...

etc.

Note that the urban area of Hamilton is 227km^2, and its urban population is 647,634, which makes it smaller and denser than many of the above French urban agglomerations.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2012-08-30 15:23:25

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By z jones (registered) | Posted August 30, 2012 at 13:53:13 in reply to Comment 80234

Right, because only cities that are bigger or smaller than Hamilton can have LRT. Squelcher FAIL.

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted August 30, 2012 at 13:57:29 in reply to Comment 80237

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By Megan (registered) | Posted August 29, 2012 at 12:12:17 in reply to Comment 80122

Since the BCA assumes two-way conversion of Main and King, will the fact that this change isn't on council's radar make a difference to Metrolinx?

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By Loco-Motive Breath (anonymous) | Posted August 29, 2012 at 07:37:35 in reply to Comment 80122

"...IT is a mystery why Metrolink's estimates are so much higher."

Oh really? IT's no mystery that down padding makes board seats cozy and he who's wearing the crown reaps all the glory.

This is a pillow fight - end of story.

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By Today (anonymous) | Posted August 28, 2012 at 19:23:28

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By jason (registered) | Posted August 28, 2012 at 21:50:21

where are these people when Hamilton is spending hundreds of millions on suburban roads and highways??

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By kettal (registered) | Posted August 29, 2012 at 12:18:13

Let's not forget what happened when Toronto go the funding, the local council started acting like a lot of spoiled brats.

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By Mahesh_P_Butani (registered) - website | Posted August 29, 2012 at 13:51:15

"We now know that the TTC and City of Toronto are being asked by Metrolinx to contribute --precisely nothing-- towards the costs of building and equipping their four line 52km Crosstown LRT."

Hamilton needs to recognize the complexities of leveraging public investments (in a resource challenged economy) for such a large and complex regional infrastructure project that straddles many urban centres in the Golden Horseshoe.

While it is easy to look at individual transit lines (components) of this very large regional public transit plan (network) in hyper local terms - with its emotional highs & lows -- it must not be forgotten that the central thrust of this plan essentially is regional in nature.

Viewing our region as a -network- connected by an appropriate hierarchy of transportation systems which is true to local conditions (rather than as a random collection of cities vying for a 'must-have' LRT), would help us understand the broader context of Metrolinx and our region's need for pervasive connectivity.

This is what will help Hamilton refine the case for attracting investment resources to its LRT aspiration -- and not an aggressive/competitive stance which pits one city against the other for funding.

"The Big Move is a bold and visionary plan that outlines a common vision for transportation for one of the largest and fastest-growing urban regions in North America. The plan introduces a new way of moving around the region."

"On May 14, 2009, GO Transit officially merged with Metrolinx. The merger maximizes the two organizations’ strategy and planning expertise and implementation and operations know-how to build rapid transit projects faster and improve customer service. GO Transit is an operating division of Metrolinx. GO Transit is Canada’s first, and the Province of Ontario’s only, interregional public transportation service for the GTHA."

In my opinion, Hamilton's LRT design approach currently offer a weak case for regional connectivity (while barely fulfilling local connectivity), and is primarily focused on boosting local urban growth on preferred axis, driven by TOD's. There is a good possibility of regional dollars flowing more smoothly if we are able to stop over-playing this real-estate angle and refocus our LRT's rationale on regional connectivity.

Here are a few references to gain deeper insight into how dollars are being created, shared and spent on the regional Metrolinx transit network (which is currently focused on the GTA components - a focus that is not a slight to Hamilton, but based on priorities arising from much higher intensity and user demand that currently exists within the regional network):

  • Achieving 5 in 10

  • Metrolinx, 5 in 10 Plan

  • Toronto Transit Board Report -- Appendix III - City Council Resolutions - 5. (pg 6) "City Council direct the City Manager to prepare as part of the 2013 Operating Budget, a new revenue tool in the form of a non-residential parking levy that would generate up to $100 million per year on an ongoing basis and that all revenues from this levy be used to create a Rapid transit legacy Fund dedicated to building rapid transit infrastructure."

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted August 30, 2012 at 09:10:48 in reply to Comment 80143

"In my opinion, Hamilton's LRT design approach currently offer a weak case for regional connectivity (while barely fulfilling local connectivity), and is primarily focused on boosting local urban growth on preferred axis, driven by TOD's. There is a good possibility of regional dollars flowing more smoothly if we are able to stop over-playing this real-estate angle and refocus our LRT's rationale on regional connectivity."

What specific changes to the proposal would you suggest? How do you boost the case for regional connectivity? Is this a question of emphasis, or a fundamental question of design?

The connectivity question will be significantly aided by going up the escarpment. No question. That, though, poses a significant engineering challenge.

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By Mahesh_P_Butani (registered) - website | Posted August 31, 2012 at 00:31:27 in reply to Comment 80180

"What specific changes to the proposal would you suggest? How do you boost the case for regional connectivity? Is this a question of emphasis, or a fundamental question of design?"

I think it is partly a question of design, but more importantly, it is a question of emphasis.

If we are open to -examining- our city's core issues, it should lead us to re-articulating the emphasis, and thus design issues would naturally come into focus.

In attempting to shift thinking towards such emphasis, one must adopt Buckminster Fuller's trim tab principle - which essentially is about understanding the power of little efforts to effect big change.

This approach is imperative because not only are we in a perennial resource crunch cycle, but as mankind's many big decisions clearly show, we are more prone to making many huge mistakes especially when we deploy huge resources in attempts to bring big change.

While our city did lose its historical economic base like many cities, our city's core issue is that we have yet to develop a meaningful economic alternative that can carry its population upwards - equally. Our education/medical complex remarkable as it is, simply fails to spread prosperity broadly and equitably. This is not going to get any better in time, it will only get worse, and which will in turn increase the economic and social gaps in our city. Add to this the exponential growth of our service industry that is thriving on social experimentation of the disenfranchised, and we have the makings of a massive economic vortex that will suck in all the capital both human and financial, with much churning at the top and very little to show for, at the bottom.

Contrary to many who may defer, I believe as a community, we have lost the collective ability to reinvent ourselves in a decisive manner -- hence, I tend to look at the opportunity posed by "Metrolinx" as the only chance we may have in the coming decades to reinvent ourselves into a regional entity from a parochial collective.

I see the region's transit challenges and Metrolink's bold response, as an opportunity to re-connect Hamilton to "Mainland Ontario" and to the rest of the world - after decades of social, political and financial disconnects. This may be our only grand chance to decisively become an outward looking, and an outward thinking society.

Our social, political and financial issues cropped up only when we stopped pursuing the connectivity to the world. It may have been the hubris of the '70's & '80's that has come to define who we are today, but in the early 1890's, visitors from England called Hamilton the Birmingham of Canada - back when our transit systems metaphorically and literally if not seamlessly, connected our city to the world. Our thriving economy back then was a reflection of that connectivity.

In trying to sketch a local urban development renaissance out of an LRT transit system, the much larger economic benefits of a pervasively connected city to a region and to the world are totally lost.

A well connected region allows for rapid flow-thru of economic opportunities within its network of cities. As world markets consolidate into trading blocks & regions to gain efficiencies in production and sales, Ontario's Golden Horseshoe region has a similar potential. We will eventually come to be known as "Metropolitan Hamilton", as that is the only way cities grow in our times.

In isolation, an LRT may bring some change to the local real-estate sector, but that is not guaranteed in tough economic times. The efforts and resources required to bring such limited change in my opinion far outweighs the benefits of the projected outcome.

Our current B-Line scheme, although a phase of a larger plan is hyper local, for it fails to meaningfully connect our city's regional/global transportation assets. The future A-Line scheme attempts to connect some of the regional assets, but fails to understand the city's geography, and in doing so ends up recreating a brand new node that appears to connect to the region, but remains oblivious of the severe limitations of its off-centric location.

The region sees Hamilton as a 'train platform' and not a grand 'railway terminal'. This may be on account of real ridership numbers presently, but it is also because we have never offered the region a view of Hamilton that is much more than the mere sum of our parts.

Our fear of reinvention handicaps us. We ignore discussions on alternatives. Alternatives that could unlock ten billion dollars in our local economy, by deploying far less than the billion+ dollars of investment required for our LRT.

We tend to be comfortable with ideas that require huge efforts for marginal change. And because we believe that the change from such huge efforts ought to be massive, we fail to believe in the power of the trim tab.

I could offer you a design alternative for deep regional and international connectivity which could create a whole new local economy - a design which is the outcome of markedly different emphasis, but after publicly talking about it for over two years, it would amount to belabouring a point.

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By Loco-Motive Breath (anonymous) | Posted September 01, 2012 at 09:25:01 in reply to Comment 80257

The LRT BB - Little Rudder's Turn with Billions to Burn

"While our city did lose its historical economic base like many cities, our city's core issue is that we have yet to develop a meaningful economic alternative that can carry its population upwards - equally. Our education/medical complex remarkable as it is, simply fails to spread prosperity broadly and equitably. This is not going to get any better in time, it will only get worse, and which will in turn increase the economic and social gaps in our city. Add to this the exponential growth of our service industry that is thriving on social experimentation of the disenfranchised, and we have the makings of a massive economic vortex that will suck in all the capital both human and financial, with much churning at the top and very little to show for, at the bottom."

Exactly! And the reason for this? We do not treat each other as human beings, persons or people; we've created descriptive terms that churn us into sheeple. We have become: cyclists, pedestrians, drivers, victims, patients, survivors, consumers, sellers and buyers. We have forsaken our in-common denominators!

Food, water, clothing and shelter; these are the things that everyone needs and they must be of the highest quality to keep people healthy and happy in our city. And should we see anyone who is lacking, we must use our trim tabs and start tacking... Man overboard, hard to port! This standard should be starboard as our first resort.

Thanks for sharing and being a good sport.

Cheers

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By bare stearns (anonymous) | Posted August 31, 2012 at 09:14:58 in reply to Comment 80257

"I could offer you a design alternative for deep regional and international connectivity which could create a whole new local economy but it's easier and more fun to write pompous long winded rants from the side lines." fixed for you.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted August 30, 2012 at 09:35:45 in reply to Comment 80180

Challenge solved. Use claremont access.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted August 30, 2012 at 09:58:37 in reply to Comment 80193

And the plan is indeed to build an A-line LRT that would go North-South connecting the Bay to the airport via the new James St N Go and via station.

As Sean points out, Claremont is the natural route, as its grade is no problem for LRT.

That, presumably, is why the provincial government promised to build two LRT lines in Hamilton.

The longer term BLAST plan would provide even greater connectivity by adding an east-west line on the Mountain and through Ancaster and Waterdown.

The reason to do the B-line first is that current passenger loads already justify LRT, and the line passes through the part of the city that has the most potential for densification and economic uplift in the short term.

It does in fact connect to the rest of the GTAH via the Hunter St go terminal.

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