Special Report: Light Rail

Latest Anti-LRT Tactic a Demand to Re-do Completed LRT/BRT Comparison

BRT can't simultaneously be far cheaper and more flexible than LRT while at the same time fixed and permanent enough to attract economic investment.

By Nicholas Kevlahan
Published May 06, 2014

Yesterday, Hamilton Spectator columnist Andrew Dreschel wrote a piece arguing that the City needs to do a comparison between light rail transit (LRT) and bus rapid transit (BRT):

Ted Gill, who was a senior director of transportation with the former Hamilton-Wentworth region, says it's time to reassess BRT in the light of new economic and technical realities.

More than six years after the City already carefully compared BRT and LRT alternatives in its planning for an east-west B-Line rapid transit system, now we are being told we need to do it all again!


The article is full of all sorts of contradictions.

It simultaneously assumes that BRT can provide comparable service to LRT "all things being equal" - "station locations, dedicated lanes, traffic signal priorities, high quality urban style, streetscaping, fare collection methods and modern vehicles," which would be very expensive - while implicitly assuming that the main argument for BRT is that it would be much cheaper.

Then it claims that "BRT has more flexibility than a fixed route," which is in direct contradiction with the "all things being equal" assumption that requires hundreds of millions of dollars of capital investment in a particular fixed route.

It makes the unsupported assumption that a diesel bus system of much lower passenger capacity vehicles could somehow operate at high enough frequencies to provide more capacity than LRT, and that LRT would for some unknown reason be limited to a frequency of 15 minutes.

It ignores the fact that LRT vehicles can carry two- to three times as many people as buses, and driver salaries are the biggest operating cost of transit systems.

It ignores the fact that BRT normally requires a new concrete road bed to support the heavy loads of buses - especially buses every seven minutes, as the article assumes. The vibration, if not the electric current, from that kind of bus traffic is at least as bad and usually worse than rail-based LRT.

It also ignores the Metrolinx Benefits Case Analysis (BCA) that directly compared the economic uplift for BRT and LRT and found LRT would provide far more direct and indirect economic benefits.

Most of all, it ignores the fact that the City already did exactly the study Gill and Dreschel are requesting, and came to the conclusion that LRT was the better system. Nothing new has happened in BRT or LRT technology since the Metrolinx BCA in 2009. Maybe Gill disagreed at the time, but his was a minority view.

In 2005, Gill joined McCormick Rankin Corporation - the very company that helped the City conduct the rapid transit feasibility study in 2008. He may even have been involved in the study itself, the first phase [PDF] of which had some serious methodological flaws that were subsequently addressed in the phase 2 report.

Fiscal Rectitude

So, after spending over $10 million directly studying LRT and BRT, Dreschel wants us to throw all that work away and re-do the studies because some crucial aspect of the decision - we're not told what - might have changed in the last few years.

Or maybe he just wants council to take the musings of a former engineer over the huge amount of detailed engineering, urban planning and economic analysis that has already been done by city staff, Metrolinx, UK-based international transportation consultants Steer Davies Gleave and McMaster transportation researchers on this issue.

The people now lining up to push BRT over LRT, including mayoral contender Brad Clark, don't actually promise they would support the $300 million or so it would take to build it and the higher operating costs, together with the dedicated lanes, disruption and other challenges that are common to both technologies.

The sudden interest in BRT appears to be mostly concern trolling aimed at killing rapid transit in two steps rather than one. How strange that our paragons of fiscal rectitude are calling for the City to throw out the $10 million already spent on studying and planning rapid transit, only to undertake the same studies again!

Would it be too much for City Staff to patiently explain to the public and Council (again) why they decided that LRT is the preferred system after already studying both options?

Would it be too much for Council to remember why it already adopted a comprehensive transit plan - Rapid Ready - with LRT at its centre?


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 Fyi (anonymous) | Posted May 06, 2014 at 09:30:45

Fyi, minor note, a recent open letter by Metrolinx Chair, Robert Prichard to province mentions need to get on with priority next wave project, and lists Hamilton's LRT as one of them. Letter can be found on the Metrolinx website.

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By StephenBarath (registered) | Posted May 06, 2014 at 11:15:22

I’m not going to suggest I think that economic development is not within the purview of a municipal government. A vibrant and prosperous core benefits city residents, even those who never visit it. It is in a lot of cases worth public investment to achieve and maintain that.

That having been said…are we talking about transit, or economic development? I guess it’s both. You can have excellent transit using buses. A lot of places achieve this. Gill says that you can provide comparable service with BRT as LRT, and he’s right: it can provide frequent service between civilized stations where boarding is quick because platforms are raised and fares have been collected at station entrances rather than the door to the vehicle. It can still be flexible in ways in which rail cannot: if a bus breaks down in the bus right-of-way, other buses can temporarily bypass it in mixed traffic; if called for, vehicles can proceed past the line’s terminus to serve local routes. I don’t think he’s wrong about those things, and I don’t think they are contradictory as claimed.

The issue has been studied, and LRT was the choice. It was not the choice exclusively because it serves riders better, however: it was also the choice because it is believed that it will spur economic development. It seems like there is plenty of evidence to support that. I would suggest, however, that much of the positive impact of the benefit of that would accrue to property owners along the line.

I would also suggest that those are the people who should pay for LRT, or more specifically the difference in cost between BRT and LRT. I say this as someone who lives along the line: the most appropriate way to fund LRT would be an aggressive capture tax on the unearned value increase on properties near the LRT, or some kind of special assessment. This is assuming that BRT can provide excellent transit service (I don’t really think anyone believes it can’t), and that the incremental investment in LRT is for sound reasons of economic development, as seems to be the case.

“The people now lining up to push BRT over LRT, including mayoral contender Brad Clark, don't actually promise they would support the $300 million or so it would take to build it…” You are dead right here, and this is the real problem. There seem to be no real transit advocates around here, whose goals are strictly to provide better service. A lot of these BRT “proponents” right now are those who want no rapid transit at all, as you say.

I find this to be an unfortunate situation: if we want better transit, evidently we have to disingenuously claim that buses are just plain no good. Meanwhile, all of the city’s transit users ride buses and most will continue to do so once LRT is built on the B Line. There are a lot of parts of the city where BRT would be an appropriate choice, and should be funded now, and it may be very hard to make that argument after spending years being negative about BRT.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted May 06, 2014 at 11:54:54 in reply to Comment 101024

I would suggest, however, that much of the positive impact of the benefit of that would accrue to property owners along the line.

This doesn't make much sense to me. The reason properties on rapid transit lines like subways are more valuable is because people want to use them more. Rents may increase, but that will be a result of people wanting to live there. Retail/commercial space may become more valuable and see more lucrative leases because the properties will be better spots for business. If property values go up, its a reflection primarily on the fact that people want to be there more. To me, that means everyone wins.

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By StephenBarath (registered) | Posted May 06, 2014 at 13:25:45 in reply to Comment 101028

Who benefits when property values go up but the owners of those properties? It’s because demand has gone up which is certainly a good thing, but the property owner is the beneficiary of that. If someone invests in an improvement to his property, and attracts higher rents because of it, that’s certainly a good thing. Should the taxpayer pay to have that individual’s location improved for him?

In the case of improved transit, transit is a public good. If this investment’s intent is improved transit + increased development, I don’t see what’s wrong with asking the beneficiaries of that development from footing part of the bill.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted May 06, 2014 at 14:51:25 in reply to Comment 101036

It’s because demand has gone up

And why might the demand go up? The demand for a piece of property would go up when it provides a benefit to its users, meaning people want it more. A residential or commercial property near transit is more valuable / sees higher demand because it is more desirable for residents and businesses to rent or buy - i.e. it benefits those residents and businesses. Why else would they be willing to pay that higher value? We WANT developers to see a profit potential in building new, high-quality buildings in Hamilton, because if that happens people will come to downtown and use those buildings. That IS the economic development process.

I don’t see what’s wrong with asking the beneficiaries of that development from footing part of the bill.

I don't disagree with this, but all I can say is that the mechanism for this would be to implement modern development charges and zoning/taxation policy along the rapid transit corridor so that the city can a) promote well-designed developments, and b) not be stuck losing money on infrastructure to support those developments. The LRT task force has already proposed this by suggesting that if the Province doesn't want to fund all of the LRT they should allow the city to borrow against future increases in tax base that would presumably happen with introduction of LRT.

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By We want best (anonymous) | Posted May 06, 2014 at 11:44:38 in reply to Comment 101024

Not about being negative about BRT. Question is what is best option. We always want best possible option, which for B-line is clearly LRT. Sure, best options tend to cost more, and we should be willing to pay, as worth it in the long run, hence best option.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted May 06, 2014 at 11:57:45 in reply to Comment 101025

Sure, best options tend to cost more

Even this is debatable as the lifecycle costs are very different, and considering that even BRT proponents are suggesting that we would possibly want to upgrade to LRT later. The cost of building BRT now and then disrupting it to build LRT later will most likely be higher than the cost of just building LRT straight away.

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By mrjanitor (registered) | Posted May 07, 2014 at 06:07:07 in reply to Comment 101030

I will completely agree that conversion of BRT to LRT is fiction. Once BRT is built, it's built.

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By anjoman (registered) | Posted May 07, 2014 at 07:57:56 in reply to Comment 101070

Well... Ottawa is doing it in some spots AFAIK. I think there is some overlap between the current BRT and the new Confederation line, although the BRT doesn't go into the core.

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted May 06, 2014 at 11:48:45

Two key Mississauga transit improvements — the new Mississsauga Transitway and the Clarkson GO Station parking lot — are facing further delays to completion schedules that had already been extended.


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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted May 06, 2014 at 11:57:20

Anybody advocating a BRT system should be required to explain in detail what exactly they mean by "BRT". I'd wager most of them think "add a bus-lane on Main, increase frequency on B-line, and put up a few more bus-shelters" qualifies as BRT.

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By mrjanitor (registered) | Posted May 07, 2014 at 06:09:39 in reply to Comment 101029

A minimum of Bronze level BRT is what I define as BRT.


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By bvbborussia (registered) | Posted May 06, 2014 at 22:47:42 in reply to Comment 101029

Have you seen the MetroBus system in Mexico City? It works fantastically well. I couldn't say how it would compare in terms of intial and ongoing costs versus a LRT line in Hamilton's case, but I wouldn't be heartbroken if we ended up with something like that.


Comment edited by bvbborussia on 2014-05-06 22:50:57

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By Zweisystem (registered) | Posted May 06, 2014 at 12:38:15

Useful numbers for the bus LRT debate.


The following is from the Light Rail Transit Associations hand book Light Rail Transit Today, comparing the operating parameters of bus, light rail, and metro on an unimpeded 8 kilometre route with stations every 450 metres. Using real data based on acceleration, deceleration, dwell time, etc., the study gives real time information for the three transit modes.

Please note: This study has been abridged for brevity and clarity. The study assumes a vehicle capacity for a bus at 90 persons; LRT 240 persons (running in multiple unit doubles capacity); and metro at 1000 persons.

The time to over the 8 km. route would be:

Bus – 22.4 minutes
LRT – 18 .6 minutes
Metro – 16.3 minutes

The Round trip time, including a 5 minute layover:

Bus – 54.8 minutes
LRT – 47.2 minutes
Metro – 42.6 minutes

The comparative frequency of service in relation to passenger flows would be:

At 2,000 persons per hour per direction:

Bus – 2.7 minute headways, with 22 trips.
LRT – 7.5  minute headways, with 8 trips.
LRT (2-car) – 15 minute headways, with 4 trips.
Metro – 30 minute headways, with 2 trips.

At 6,000 pphpd:

1 Bus – 0.9 minute headways, with 67 trips.
LRT – 2.4 minute headways, with 17 trips.
LRT (2-car) – 4.8 minutes, with 13 trips.
Metro – 10 minute headways with 6 trips.

At 10,000 pphpd:

Bus – 30 second headways, with 111 trips (traffic flows above 10,000 pphpd impractical).
LRT – 1.4 minute headways, with 42 trips.
LRT (2 car) – 2.8 minute headways, 21 trips
Metro – 6 minute headways, 10 trips.

At 20,000 pphpd:

LRT – 0.7 minute headways, with 83 trips.
LRT (2 car) – 1.4 minute headways, with 42 trips.
Metro – 3 minute headways, with 20 trips.

Comparative Staff Requirements on vehicles in relation to passenger flows. Station staff in brackets ().

At 2,000 pphpd:

Bus – 21 (0)
LRT – 7 (0)
LRT (2 car) – 4 (0)
metro – 2 (up to 38)

At 6,000 pphpd:

Bus – 61 (0)
LRT – 20 (0)
LRT (2 car) – 10 (0)
Metro – 5 (up to 38)

At 10,000 pphpd:

Bus – 110 (traffic flows above 10,000 pphpd impractical) (0).
LRT – 34 (0)
LRT (2 car) – 17 (0)
Metro – 8 (up to 38)

At 20,000 pphpd:

LRT – 69 (0)
LRT (2 car) – 34 (0)
Metro – 15 (up to 38)

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By slodrive (registered) | Posted May 06, 2014 at 13:03:57

Quickly into reading this article, I made the assumption that Dreschel only wrote it to generate page views directed via Raise the Hammer.

I'm guessing writers block is the culprit here.

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By Hamilton 1 (anonymous) | Posted May 06, 2014 at 13:11:49

what happens if the rail line is blocked. stalled train, car, fire, police investigation? the rail system comes to a complete stop, for many hours. a bus can take a detour and the system keeps moving.
I still can't figure out why Hamilton needs rapid transit in the first place. is there a large group of people in Stoney creek that would go to Mc Master if they could make it there 10 min faster than they can now?

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted May 06, 2014 at 13:43:30 in reply to Comment 101034

Depends on a lot of details. Depending on the design, a proper BRT (as compared to "express buses") may not necessarily detour easily, especially if electrified, or in separated lanes. In either of those cases, any accident that blocks the RT line blocks the service.

Emergency vehicles use Tram tracks elsewhere, no reason they can't here. Any emergency that leaves emergency services parked on the tracks, has likely closed the whole road anyway.

I guess the reasoning is, perhaps benefits of faster throughput 99.9% of the time more than outweigh for the fraction of a percent of the time that the road closes due to a major incident?

Comment edited by mikeonthemountain on 2014-05-06 13:46:25

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By Well... (anonymous) | Posted May 06, 2014 at 13:34:29 in reply to Comment 101034

Well... actually yes. And would take a lot of cars off the road.

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By Melissa (anonymous) | Posted May 06, 2014 at 13:46:27

In the rare instances of break-downs, buses would temporarily serve as shuttles. The city would not come to a standstill.

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By tre (registered) | Posted May 12, 2014 at 13:25:52 in reply to Comment 101041

This is also one of the things omitted from the "operating cost" of LRT - the costs of maintaining a fleet of spare buses for occasional LRT disruptions (due to breakdowns, constructions, accidents, etc.) and the extra operators to run the shuttle buses. I'm not even talking about the economic impact and inconvenience of LRT disruptions (if you need an example, look up TTC routes 501, 509, and 510 at this very moment).

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By Or... (anonymous) | Posted May 06, 2014 at 14:53:14 in reply to Comment 101041

If the tram is broken down the next tram is also able to push it to a layover area (either mid-route or at the end).

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted May 06, 2014 at 15:04:43 in reply to Comment 101045

Wait, they do that? Is that a thing?

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By MattM (registered) | Posted May 06, 2014 at 15:21:08 in reply to Comment 101046

They do that in Toronto quite frequently, especially given the fact that the Canadian Light Rail Vehicles that the TTC uses are 40 years old and showing their age. They have couplers behind a detachable piece of the body for use in towing. The TTC also uses short turning trackage to get vehicles off the main route, something that HSR would most likely install in some places as well (it's a common practice in light rail systems).

The entire city doesn't come to a standstill because a vehicle has broken down or because the route is otherwise blocked. The vehicles can be short turned before the blockage with shuttle service around it until it's resolved. Seriously people, it's not like no city has ever attempted to run train cars on the street before. We've been doing it for over a century.

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By What if... (anonymous) | Posted May 06, 2014 at 17:28:41 in reply to Comment 101048

Yeah, but what if the shuttle service breaks down? Then what?!?!?!

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted May 06, 2014 at 15:31:28 in reply to Comment 101048


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By Tramscan (anonymous) | Posted May 06, 2014 at 15:18:56 in reply to Comment 101046

Yes. Trams can do anything.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted May 06, 2014 at 16:48:17

Because waffling on a well-developed plan totally worked out for the stadium, right?

I swear, we're going to end up spending a billion rotating Main Street 90 degrees.

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By Rimshot (anonymous) | Posted May 06, 2014 at 19:20:39 in reply to Comment 101051

A-Line FTW!

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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted May 06, 2014 at 16:57:03

Just cede control of B-Line LRT to Metrolinx, let them shoulder all costs (capital/operating) and recoup as they see fit. The HSR/City of Hamilton can keep pace or become bystanders in their own city.

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 06, 2014 at 22:58:22

So the same Spec columnist who flipped his lid at 800 grand being spent for a protected two-way bike lane is suggesting we throw away millions of $ in research that has already been done and studied the various options? And he seems to be advocating for Hamilton to only accept spending 200mil for a jazzed up bus system instead of fighting for the 800mil for our first line of a world-class LRT system? Like all LRT opponents I've heard so far - he simply doesn't want to spend money on transit. Surely there are more banquet halls we could be building by the airport, or cloverleafs to Walmart, or roundabouts in the middle of nowhere.
Why is the Spec still publishing nonsense from the middle of last century???

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By mrjanitor (registered) | Posted May 07, 2014 at 06:12:59 in reply to Comment 101061

BRT is NOT a jazzed up bus system. This is hyperbole and does not further the discussion.

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 06, 2014 at 23:01:31

btw, this nonsense comment about BRT being 'more flexible' is simply untrue. A true BRT system as promoted by this ex-Hamilton traffic planner (haven't they damaged our city enough?) is just as fixed in it's own lanes with level platform stations etc as an LRT system. A true BRT system is literally the same as LRT except without all the EcDev spinoffs. BRT systems in Bogota or Curibita are in just as much trouble in case of a fire/accident as LRT systems around the world.
If we're going to use possible accident delays as a reason to not build an LRT line, can these same people please fill the Spec letters page with that same rationale the next time a freeway is proposed??
Didn't think so.

That said, I'd love to see a couple of true BRT lines built to connect to the LRT B-line.

Comment edited by jason on 2014-05-06 23:02:55

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By mrjanitor (registered) | Posted May 07, 2014 at 06:19:27 in reply to Comment 101062

BRT buses can enter and exit the BRT lane, giving transit planners many options. Buses may be able to enter and use the LRT corridor, however the LRT cannot leave. There are more options.

Studies that get far too easily dismissed here because they are inconvenient state that BRT can spur development just as effectively as LRT. The key to Ec Dev success after any dedicated transit corridor is constructed lies in the zoning changes around the corridor. LRT or BRT, they will both flop without supporting zoning and planning changes.

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By lrt (anonymous) | Posted May 06, 2014 at 23:05:21

According to an article in the Hamilton Spectator tonight, current Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said that Hamilton will receive 100 per cent funding for rapid transit.

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By MattM (registered) | Posted May 07, 2014 at 00:29:57 in reply to Comment 101063

Dependent on them actually being re-elected. Same thing we heard years ago.

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By mrjanitor (registered) | Posted May 07, 2014 at 10:00:03

Would this really be the end of the world?


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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted May 07, 2014 at 10:29:19 in reply to Comment 101091

Again, its not that BRT is bad, but this is a discussion about downgrading from LRT to BRT; only in that context is BRT a negative. If the province decided that LRT is too expensive and said they would fund BRT or nothing, we LRT supporters would be disappointed but we would support BRT over the nothing, especially since 'nothing' includes leaving King and Main as 4-lane highways. But the province isn't saying they would rather fund BRT because both they and city staff know that LRT is the better option for this application.

Furthermore, in those videos the BRTs shown have many features comparable to LRT such as level boarding, right of way, pre-purchased fares etc... but the videos don't explain why we should do BRT instead of LRT.

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By Metrolinx (anonymous) | Posted May 07, 2014 at 12:30:20

I think its clear that we need to be following up with Metrolinx instead of Glen Murray to state our strong preference of LRT over BRT. Mr. Murray has gauranteed 100% capital funding, but sounds like he is saying it is up to Metrolinx and city to determine whether BRT or LRT, though he himself thinks LRT would be best. My advice is to tweet Metrolinx with our questions.

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By misterque (registered) - website | Posted May 07, 2014 at 18:33:02

I have listened to Mr. Gill's presentation to GIC and his now notorious "comic sans" power point presentation. It is really a poor presentation that literally makes no sense and is deeply self contradictory. I would like to know who asked him to present this to council and whether we paid for this presentation. It is most disappointing. Millions of dollars have been spent on researching which is the best system for the route in question (B line LRT on King). We have a funding commitment from the province (for what that is worth). Any other proposals at this juncture are simply FUD. This one topic is making me question whether democracy can work at all.

http://tinyw.in/m6hh (powerless point presentation)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yfAwOaN8rUg&feature=share (starts at 43:05)

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By whoops, dead link (anonymous) | Posted May 08, 2014 at 06:10:09 in reply to Comment 101122

your link doesn't work. 404 not found.

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