Special Report: Light Rail

Councillor Brenda Johnson Wrong to Break LRT Support Promise

Council already has two financial sources that it could tap to help improve local transit, and I look forward to Councillor Johnson championing these among her colleagues.

By Nicholas Kevlahan
Published October 19, 2016

I am disappointed with Ward 11 (Glanbrook) Councillor Brenda Johnson's recent decision to withdraw her support for Hamilton's provincially funded Light Rail Transit (LRT) project, which is currently in the implementation stage.

As a candidate in the last municipal election, Councillor Johnson promised to support LRT.

Breaking this promise should require a detailed explanation and be based on some serious negative developments that were not known in late 2014.

Johnson's statement doesn't give many details, but she points to the fact that the Province "only" gave the City $1 billion, not the additional $302 million for local transit improvements that was added to the funding request at the last minute.

Johnson's statement also expresses concern that various operational details are not yet decided and that we should improve HSR service in all parts of the city.

As the councillor is well aware, the LRT project has been developed since 2007 and was the subject of dozens of Council votes. Millions of dollars have been spent on design and consultation. Council repeatedly requested funding for this project.

The $302 million was a last-minute request with minimal preparation that was ineligible given the well-known funding guidelines for Metrolinx: regional transit and rapid transit.

Regarding Johnson's concern about operational details, the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) that Council (including Johnson) supported in January obligates Council:

... to proceed expeditiously, diligently and in good faith and in a co-operative and collaborative manner to ... expedite the construction and completion of the Project.

The system will not be in operation for another eight years, which provides plenty of time to work out operational details on revenue/cost sharing and staffing.

Negotiating in good faith on these issues is not consistent with withdrawing support because you don't already know the result!

I strongly support Johnson's stated goal of an improved HSR transit system throughout the city. This would reverse decades of cutbacks and underfunding by Council.

However, Council needs to act now to implement its ten year transit plan, using its own financial resources, to show its good faith that it really does consider better HSR to be a priority.

Fortunately, Council has two financial sources that it could tap to help improve the system, and I look forward to Councillor Johnson championing these among her colleagues:

1) Eliminate area rating for transit for urban areas. Hamilton is the only city in Ontario that has different transit rates for different urban areas. Removing area rating would provide a big boost in finances for HSR and would shift the politics on the issue by ensuring suburbs demand better service, rather than reject better service because they need to pay the whole cost of the improvement.

2) Start spending all of the federal gas tax money on transit like every other big city, rather than spending almost all of it on roads.

Hamilton has eight years to improve the HSR system before LRT operations begin, and it has the financial resources to make big improvements. But the City cannot expect the Province to finance its municipal bus service, especially since the Province has already agreed to the City's request to fund its LRT - an amount that equals 20 years of what the city spends on HSR!

I urge Councillor Johnson, as an environmentalist and a Hamiltonian, to continue supporting an environmentally sustainable rapid transit solution that will get people out of their cars and support a denser more sustainable urban form.

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 fmurray (registered) | Posted October 19, 2016 at 18:44:23

I agree with everything in this article. Usually I find Brenda Johnson has good substance in her stand on various issues, although I often disagree with her. (And especially disagreed with her putting it to her residents to decide on the fate of Trans Cab for Binbrook.) However, her stated reasons for voting against this critical project for Hamilton, were weak. I suspect she is receiving pressure from residents and has decided to take the easy road instead of standing for what is best for the city.

Question: Is the revenue from red light cameras also supposed to go to transit?

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted October 19, 2016 at 20:15:23

We'll probably see more of this in the coming days now that we know the LRT cannot be turned around without a 2/3 majority - a majority that will never be achieved. There is a gold mine of risk-free political capital out there and the time to get it is now.

Clr Johnson can safely say she cannot support LRT because she knows it is inevitable. The posturing will please an obviously vocal group of voters in her ward. Same with Clr Collins. Now he's playing the good guy saying he will no longer oppose the LRT knowing full well his opposition is meaningless anyway. This, he hopes, will endear him to voters he may have lost while being stridently against it.

Can't wait to hear Clr Whitehead's next move.

Comment edited by ergopepsi on 2016-10-19 20:16:28

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By bobby2 (registered) | Posted October 23, 2016 at 09:50:05

This LRT project is destined to be one massive money pit for Ontario taxpayers and Hamilton property tax payers not to mention all the proposed route businesses that will be ruined during years of construction! Do you really think the Province is going to cover operational & maintenance costs?? Property taxes will skyrocket so McMaster students that are mostly non-Hamiltonians can get from school to downtown. Not one single construction quote has been rendered, no one know what lies underneath the ground of a 100 year plus City that needs replacement and if it goes over budget, which it will by a large amount, project gets scaled back or wait for it " City pays the over run if project is not scaled back"! That is property taxes! The only project that makes sense for a City like Hamilton is an enhanced Rapid Bus Service where routes can be changed dependant on demand, stops are closer together, all of the City could benefit & it wouldn't take years & years like LRT & it would be cheaper!

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