Special Report: Light Rail

Look at the Numbers: Internal Transit More Important to Hamilton

We shall always have naysayers, those who cannot see the future, and we must abide them and respect their opinions. However, proud cities are never built by doing nothing.

By Peter Hill
Published August 20, 2014

I was in a waiting room recently and picked up a copy of the April 2014 issue of the Canadian Geographic Society Magazine. In it I read an interesting article about commuting. Of particular interest was a map of the Greater Hamilton/Toronto area showing commuter patterns.

Top 20 municipalities commuting to Toronto (Image Credit: National Geographic)
Top 20 municipalities commuting to Toronto (Image Credit: National Geographic)

Colour legend
Colour legend

One of the maps shows among other things that most of the commuting in Hamilton is done internally and that only about 3 percent of Hamiltonians commute to Toronto.

What does this mean for us Hamiltonians? It means that transit systems internal to Hamilton are far more important than a system connecting us to Toronto in terms of bodies moved.

I was a member of the Rapid Transit Citizen Advisory Committee (RTAC), which met monthly between September 2010 and September 2012 to review and thoroughly discuss the proposed routings of the east-west B-Line light rail transit (LRT).

The 20 or so members were chosen from among people who lived along the B-line corridor, seniors, those having mobility problems, and others with relevant backgrounds and expertise.

The final 263-page "Rapid Ready" report was presented to, and accepted by, the General Issues Committee of Hamilton City Council on February 25 2013 and is available for all to see [PDF].

The staff and guests who made presentations were asked - and adequately answered - the full range of questions subsequently being asked by others in the community. I cannot think of an objection which was not raised and resolved to our satisfaction.

Unfortunately, comments made in the public forum over the last year or two are clearly reactions of people who have not thoroughly examined all the issues and parameters involved.

Planning for the future is a complex task and requires an ability to visualize the outcome, think of all the things and actions required to make the vision come true, put the actions required in the order to be done and then convince the reluctant and less knowledgeable.

As I see it, all but the last step has been accomplished. We shall always have naysayers, those who cannot see the future, and we must abide them and respect their opinions. However, proud cities are never built by doing nothing. If nothing changes, nothing changes. (Read that twice and think about it.)

When I arrived in Hamilton in 1948, the southern boundary was Fennel Avenue! Just think if we still operated our city's transportation system according to that parameter. Planning for infrastructure looks decades out; we cannot believe that what we need now will do us well in twenty years.

I had a summer job with Hamilton's Planning Department in the late 1950s and I remember surveying Hamilton Drive in Ancaster. I was told that a bridge on this road over a future highway would be needed. That's now Highway 403 and it was built around 1990 - a time lag of some 30 years.

Well, what does all this mean? It means that money spent on the proposed LRT system will do more for Hamilton and its citizens than money spent elsewhere.

The Canadian Geographic article demonstrates the current need and activity. It will not be the same in twenty years!

The article should be required reading (with subsequent contemplation) for anyone having an interest in improving our transit infrastructure, particularly the Mayor and City Councillors!

Peter Hill has served on the Boards of Hamilton Children's Aid Society, Amity Goodwill Industries, Haldimand & Area Woodlot Owners' Association, Ontario Woodlot Association, and many other community committees. He was inducted into the McMaster Alumni Gallery of Distinction in 1991. He is a Past-President of the Durand Neighbourhood Association, Hamilton Public Relations Society, Lupus Society of Hamilton and was the founding Business Co-chair of the Hamilton-Wentworth Training Board. He served as President of the Dundas Valley Orchestra in 2009-2010 and 2012-2013. He has served on the city's Urban Advisory Committee and was a member of Hamilton's Rapid Transit Citizens' Advisory Committee (2010-2012). He holds a Master's degree in Geography. Now retired, he was Associate Registrar at McMaster University where he initiated its student recruitment activity and, subsequently, Director of Public Relations at the Hamilton Civic Hospitals where he initiated its community communications programs.

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By RB (registered) | Posted August 20, 2014 at 15:29:49

Who's commuting to Vancouver? Ouch...

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted August 20, 2014 at 16:39:45

Excellent analysis Peter, thank you. Those were great figures. It's quite clear that Hamilton has a vastly different commuting pattern from that of the close neighbors Oakville, Milton and Burlington.

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted August 20, 2014 at 19:53:54

The Canadian Geographic map clearly illustrates Mississauga's strategic advantage as a regional entity: High levels of internal transit use, high levels of outbound commuters as well as high numbers of Toronto-bound commuters. Strong mayor notwithstanding, Mississauga appears to be a compelling choice for transit investment.

It would be interesting to see similar maps illustrating intra-urban volumes and destinations.

Hopefully the HSR can emerge from its 25-year slumber when a new director is appointed.

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By jason (registered) | Posted August 20, 2014 at 20:47:38 in reply to Comment 104096

However from a local commuting perspective, Hamilton's rate is 2nd highest only to Toronto's. While all-day GO both directions is something we should fight for, we should be fighting much harder for LRT lines in Hamilton and for all day GO service from Niagara and Brantford into Hamilton. In fact, Brantford city council recently sent a business case to the province asking for all day GO service into Hamilton to Mohawk and/or McMaster due to the high numbers of people commuting from their city to ours everyday. These sorts of opportunities should be jumped on at our city hall. We have a neighbouring city sending people here and wanting to enhance transit so they can send even more. We've all believed for far too long that we are nothing more than Oakville-lite. In fact, we are our own city and a regional hub.

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted August 21, 2014 at 10:48:52 in reply to Comment 104097

That was my point: The HSR and the City should be investing in intra-city transit infrastructure. I would question the notion that the solution solely resides with the province, however. City Hall and council are the ones most directly responsible for investing in intra-city transit infrastructure, and making the debate about some future deus ex machina from Queen's Park absolves municipal leaders of their responsibility, in whole or in part.

Brantford's business case for additional inter-city bus service was prepared by the same consultants that generated Hamilton's business case for intra-city rapid transit. And at the end of the day, the province has signalled that it comes down to the strength and credibility of the business case. Time will tell, I suppose.

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted August 21, 2014 at 10:58:34 in reply to Comment 104104

FWIW, one notable takeaway from the Brantford report was the finding that Brantford Transit would be able to run the inter-city service at operating costs a third those of GO Transit.

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By randomguy (anonymous) | Posted August 22, 2014 at 03:01:17 in reply to Comment 104106

I moved back to Hamilton in 2006 and take the GO bus from Hunter to Union maybe five times a year. I'm shocked how much the fare has gone up over that period, especially considering how low inflation and wage growth has been over that period. I'm pretty sure if the Hamilton GO buses were independent, fares would be way lower and that this route is in fact subsidizing other routes.

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By jason (registered) | Posted August 21, 2014 at 10:56:43 in reply to Comment 104104

you're bang on. the HSR has been a complete and total embarrassment for 3 decades. Double the amount of buses and add in several km of bus-lanes, express routes using the shoulders of the Linc, Red Hill, 403 and QEW and we would have double the current ridership. Our ridership is completely related to the level of investment we've put into the system the past 30 years.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted August 21, 2014 at 16:47:35 in reply to Comment 104105

Jason, none of these recommendations will get me to take HSR over my car for the following reasons:

1. My car will always get me from point A to point B faster than any bus/lrt as there is no traffic congestion in Hamilton.
2. I don't have to wait outside in the cold and rain for the bus.
3. I can bring other people with me in my car and carry belongings in the trunk much easier than on the bus.
4. My car is not on a schedule and can come and go as I please. My car doesn't stop running at 2am!!!
5. And last...I can afford to own and operate a car so I will do so as it is convenient and time is at a premium.

These reasons are valid for most Hamiltonians who are old enough to drive but for some reason you continue to live in a fantasy world.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted August 22, 2014 at 16:06:55 in reply to Comment 104111

I live on the mountain, but worked downtown for two years.

I took the bus every single day, by choice. I found it convenient not having to think about driving or worry about parking.

Now, 5 years later, if I were able to work downtown again, I would resume taking the bus in a heartbeat.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted August 22, 2014 at 10:13:21 in reply to Comment 104111

none of these recommendations will get me to take HSR over my car

Maybe you are not the target market.

These reasons are valid for most Hamiltonians who are old enough to drive

These reasons are not valid for non-drivers in other cities. What is different about Hamilton?

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By Nitpick (anonymous) | Posted August 24, 2014 at 16:05:07 in reply to Comment 104124

"Maybe you are not the target market."

Maybe you're in the minority, and trying to appeal to the wider masses (isn't that the point? Rather than serving people already served, would be to get those who aren't interested in riding to ride? Or are you saying it's a lost cause and we should just "get new toys" for that fraction of our city who uses public transit?)

"These reasons are not valid for non-drivers in other cities. What is different about Hamilton?"

Such as? What's different about Hamilton? How much time have you got?

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By Agree (anonymous) | Posted August 22, 2014 at 06:22:30 in reply to Comment 104111

Agree with all these points. Once public transit is convenient, easy to access, and affordable, I'll be all over it. Currently no public transit does that and almost certainly never will. I'll keep driving till that stuff is in check.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted August 22, 2014 at 19:30:23 in reply to Comment 104122

Or until there is adequate enforcement of zero tolerance of violent, dangerous criminals launching lethal cancer poison attacks upon ourselves and our children.

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By Rhetoric (anonymous) | Posted August 24, 2014 at 14:51:03 in reply to Comment 104130

Give it a rest. Yes, I deliberately drive my car to poison you. Grow up.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted August 25, 2014 at 01:58:03 in reply to Comment 104137

I am not a mind reader. I really do not know what is going on in the head of a criminal who chooses to launch a lethal cancer poison attack upon myself and my family. And it really makes no difference if the criminal kills with a gun or a knife or lethal poison. Dead is dead.

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By Rhetoric (anonymous) | Posted August 25, 2014 at 06:16:29 in reply to Comment 104139

Wow, you really do believe that nonsense. Wow.

Do you buy anything from stores? Do you travel anywhere other than under your own power? Because if you do, you're aiding and abetting. You better head to your local police station and turn yourself in!

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted August 25, 2014 at 21:45:51 in reply to Comment 104142

Strange, how the Medical Officer of Health believes the same thing

But, of course, we all know that nobody bought anything from stores or traveled anywhere before cars were invented.

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By Rhetoric (anonymous) | Posted August 26, 2014 at 20:47:42 in reply to Comment 104158

Sure, I'd buy into it if that weren't from another region (Peel) or that the "Medical Officer of Health" is just a made up title for a council member. We have that here in Hamilton too, but AFAIK, there are no actual medical doctors on that board.

Further to that, your non-point about pre-car business is moot. Did you ride your horse to the store? Do you shop at places that only use carbon neutral methods of power?

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By jason (registered) | Posted August 21, 2014 at 22:23:52 in reply to Comment 104111

You're right. We shouldn't try to increase transit, cycling and walking numbers here like every other city on the planet. My bad.

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By RobF (registered) | Posted August 21, 2014 at 20:23:54 in reply to Comment 104111

As someone once sang:

We've got a thousand points in light for the homeless man. We've got a kinder, gentler machine gun hand. We got department stores and toilet paper. Got Styrofoam boxes for the ozone layer. Got a man of the people, says, keeps em alive. Got fuel to burn, got roads to drive.

Comment edited by RobF on 2014-08-21 20:33:29

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By arienc (registered) | Posted August 21, 2014 at 16:59:35 in reply to Comment 104111

The world need not revolve around you.

There will be people who can get from point A to point B much quicker when they don't have a car that they have to find and pay for a parking spot for.

There will be people who would be willing to wait a couple of minutes for a train to take them across town.

There are a lot of people who have walkers and bags attached to them who would benefit from a convenient service to get them to / from the grocery store.

There are a lot of people who don't need to go anywhere at 2AM.

There are a lot of families that could free up $10K / year of their hard-earned income they can spend on other things other than running and maintaining a second car just to have it sit in a parking lot most of the day. That's like getting a $15,000/year raise. I'm sure the vast majority would be willing to put up with a little bit of inconvenience for that.

The idea that everyone could and should drive cars everywhere, and that it is actually "capitalistic" to cater to that notion is the fantasy world here. Nothing in Western society is as subsidized by our tax dollar as mass motoring.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted August 28, 2014 at 10:56:36 in reply to Comment 104113


"There will be people who can get from point A to point B much quicker when they don't have a car that they have to find and pay for a parking spot for."

This holds in large cities with very dense dt cores such as NY, HK even Toronto. But in a city like Hamilton it is almost always easier to go from A to B with a car. Even dt in rush hour. Parking is plentiful and cheap.

"There will be people who would be willing to wait a couple of minutes for a train to take them across town."

A couple of minutes? More like 15 min. I can leave my mountain home and be parked dt in less than 15mins.

"There are a lot of people who have walkers and bags attached to them who would benefit from a convenient service to get them to / from the grocery store."

Yes. We already have that. The HSR provides pretty good services in Hamilton. It might not be on demand door to door service that you guys expect but they are providing reasonable service based on what we can afford and competing priorities. We also have DARTS and discounted taxi fares for seniors.

"There are a lot of people who don't need to go anywhere at 2AM."

True. But there are also a lot who do. People working shifts, traveling, entertaining etc. Owning a car creates the flexibility to do things at 2am if need be. Have you ever tried meeting women in Hamilton without a car? Good luck!

"There are a lot of families that could free up $10K / year of their hard-earned income they can spend on other things other than running and maintaining a second car just to have it sit in a parking lot most of the day..."

Owning a car is a big expense. You don't need to tell owners how much money they can save by only owning one car (or none). However, the fact these people chose to purchase a costly second car should tell you that they have a need for it. It saves them time, allows them to run errands easier (carry grocery bags, hockey bags etc), creates more flexibility when you have to go somewhere, both spouses probably work in different parts of the city. It's a cost-benefit analysis. People are buying these cars because the benefits exceed the costs.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted August 21, 2014 at 16:51:23 in reply to Comment 104111

If every Hamiltonian took that attitude, we'd have to convert even more of the city into parking lots (and they would cost more), so be happy for all the folks in Fantasy Land.

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By LRTandGO (anonymous) | Posted August 21, 2014 at 07:58:59

I agree based on current numbers makes more sense to fight harder for LRT. But all day GO service to TO will probably increase numbers of commuters to TO. I'm selfishly hoping for a GO station in Stoney Creek as I'm one of those commuters to TO!

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By RobF (registered) | Posted August 21, 2014 at 20:41:02 in reply to Comment 104099

Who says it has to be LRT or GO ... lame duck Mayor Bob. We need both for different reasons.

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By scrap (anonymous) | Posted August 22, 2014 at 01:39:18

Well, the capitalist strikes again with his so called logic.

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By jorvay (registered) | Posted August 22, 2014 at 09:35:00

First, I definitely agree with this article. Local transit is more important to this city. There is something that people seem to be missing about GO transit though. With all-day service, Hamilton has a lot more to gain than just easier access to Toronto. When you look at the stations along the Lakeshore line, very few (if any) other than Union and Hamilton are central enough to be used as destinations. The other stops are all locations that are convenient to drive/walk/bike to from home for train access to Toronto. However, trains coming into Hamilton are rare and only during the evening commute home. With all-day service in both directions, there's a real opportunity for businesses to set up shop in an urban transit destination other than down town Toronto that's much more affordable. That's something that doesn't really exist right now.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted August 22, 2014 at 16:11:05 in reply to Comment 104123

Other than rush hour times heading into Toronto, taking the GO QEW Express bus is almost always faster than the train.

I am worried two-way all-day GO train service to Hamilton is just a red herring. Sure it looks good. But is it actually better than the bus service we have now? Will we lose our current express bus service because we have to try and fill up those trains?

As someone who commutes daily in Toronto, you think I would be in favour of two-way all-day GO train service. But really I'm very worried about it actually being a negative in the long run.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted August 25, 2014 at 02:02:53 in reply to Comment 104128

I wonder what percentage of passengers boarding in Hamilton would be going all the way to Toronto Union Station? There are a lot of other stations on the way. Stations that the express bus does not stop at.

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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted August 22, 2014 at 22:49:22 in reply to Comment 104128

The seed of suspicion is easily planted.

"Some of this new train service will have an impact on GO Bus service as connections will be adjusted and some trips will be replaced by the new GO Train trips. Since GO assesses service on a consistent basis, some regular GO Bus service will be adjusted and increased according to demand."

raisethehammer.org/comment/88261

It's not cheap to run empty trains to and from Hamilton – the Aldershot distance is a round-trip of around 40 minutes – so my guess would be that service levels will be dictated by ticket sales.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted August 22, 2014 at 10:19:04 in reply to Comment 104123

Good point! We keep talking about using all-day GO service to attract Toronto workers who might choose to commute in exchange for cheaper housing, but all-day GO service could also be an attraction to businesses that otherwise would not be able to afford commercial space on the Lakeshore west corridor.

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By bikehounds (anonymous) | Posted August 22, 2014 at 10:45:32 in reply to Comment 104125

And commuting into Hamilton would be a much better daily experience for workers. Hamilton has been missing an opportunity to position itself as a destination for GO rather than a remote outpost for quite some time. Hopefully all day service changes that!

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By the son of Toronto (anonymous) | Posted August 23, 2014 at 20:51:02

This article is pointless. Because Hamilton need to improve both Go train and local transit. But local transit in Hamilton is pretty good. It's not over crowded, all buses are in good condition, clean, easy access for people on wheelchair... the service is good, buses run quite often, on times and go everywhere, bus drivers are very nice, helpful, polite and having good relationship with rides (not like in Toronto, buses are too old, very dirty, overcrowded, go slow, never on time, not every buses accessibly for wheelchair.. buses drivers are usually rude and they get insulted everyday... having very bad relationship with riders. I'm very happy with local transit in Hamilton (Probably I'm from Toronto where the transit is so bad and expensive). Its very good if we have more Go trains run all day because we already have station in downtown and another one will be finished soon. While the Liberal government said there is No money for Let in Hamilton. So why we are wasting time talking about LRT.

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By RobF (registered) | Posted August 24, 2014 at 13:16:14 in reply to Comment 104135

The Liberals haven't said there's no money for LRT in Hamilton ... I think it's more the case that we have a mayor who has muddied the waters. Until the next election provides some clarity from the electorate the Province won't commit to LRT. It doesn't want to repeat the Toronto experience with Transit City (fight/negotiate with the Miller regime over funding, ownership, operation, etc., then have the next Mayor campaign against LRT (or what he thinks it is) and spend his term working against what had been agreed upon ... wasting time and money in the process).

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