As of publication time the Minister of Finance had not yet released the date that he will bring down his spring budget. When he does bring down the budget however, transit watchers in Hamilton will be eagerly awaiting the anticipated announcement of exactly how much major transit funding may be in store for Hamilton.
Despite all the contradictory signals and warnings that Hamilton might end up with no money for rapid transit, The Bay Observer has heard strong suggestions from usually reliable sources that Hamilton has been penciled in for about $1 Billion dollars in present and future transit funding, and that this number has apparently been in place for a long time. If there is a hard commitment for advanced transit funding Hamilton will need to begin to get into detailed planning for current needs and for rapid transit in the future.
Currently, council has approved a plan that would see a significant buildup of conventional bus transit in an effort to get more people using transit. At present, Hamilton’s transit usage is about half of what would normally justify advanced transit, be it Bus Rapid Transit or Light Rail Transit. The City has applied to Metrolinx for $100 Million for new buses and $200 Million for a new bus storage and maintenance facility. But sources close to the situation say that Metrolinx may have trouble funding the buses outside of the current program where gas tax is refunded to municipalities to pay for buses since such a funding move could trigger a flurry of similar requests from around the province. That would force Hamilton to seek other sources for the bus money.
Council has also approved Mayor Fred Eisenberger’s proposal to have a select citizen panel study the city’s transit future. According to terms of reference released last month an external consultant would be hired to manage the process. Under the scheme a citizen would be selected at random from each of the 15 wards, plus four representatives would be appointed at large—two from the old city wards and two from the suburbs. A public opinion poll would be conducted prior to the panel being launched.The panel would be provided with an issues book and would meet several times in open sessions to hear from the public and to discuss issues amongst themselves. Most of the meetings will take place this fall and the final report will be rendered in January of 2016. The plan allows for the engagement of external expertise.