With so many residents appearing as delegations to Hamilton City Council in the last two years; either supporting or opposing LRT; it was often difficult for observers to separate fact from fiction and rationality from emotion. With positions on the divisive project firmly entrenched, the phrase. “Don’t confuse me with the facts,” could apply to some on both sides of the issue.
One delegate, however, stood out from most of his peers by not only being unemotional, but also by coming to the meeting armed with actual data to support his position. Gaspare Bonomo, a mathematics professor at Mohawk College (and currently running for council in Dundas) tried without success to persuade council that some of the underlying assumptions that led to the selection of LRT over Bus rapid transit, were deeply flawed; and indeed, if the correct assumptions had been applied, LRT would have been rejected as an option long ago.
As Bonomo tried to explain to councillors, a big chunk of the value attached to LRT over BRT was the travel time that was being used to calculate the relative benefits of the two transportation modes. A Metrolinx report issued in 2010 estimated that LRT would cover the 14.2 KM route in 26 minutes, while bus rapid transit would take 34 minutes to go from Eastgate to McMaster. Using a formula that assigned a value of 22 cents per minute of time saved, multiplied by the estimated number of passengers over 30 years, the report estimated that LRT would provide $500 Million more in what it termed “Transportation user benefits.” than BRT. Even with that advantage the report showed that BRT still provided better value for money than LRT. But as Bonomo pointed out, the assumption that LRT could cover the route in 26 minutes was itself deeply flawed, taking into account the congestion that would be inevitable through the downtown core. The speeds necessary to complete the trip in 26 minutes were simply unattainable. Metrolinx acknowledged this fact in subsequent literature it used to inform the public. A Metrolinx publication is now estimating the travel time for LRT at 32 minutes, which if the case, would provide a benefit-cost ratio of less than a third that of BRT. For a transportation option to qualify for funding it must show that the “Transportation User Benefits” are more than the capital cost. The “Benefit-Cost ratio” should be greater than 1.0. In the case of Hamilton’s BRT, if the slower transit speed is factored in, it would have a benefit-cost ratio of .49—half of the minimum threshold for receiving funding. None of the above takes into account that these “transportation user benefits,” have no real cash impact since there is no way of monetizing a travel time saving of two minutes or eight minutes.
The Metrolinx study also made a fundamental error in estimating the growth in population along the proposed LRT route. Noting that Hamilton’s population was expected to grow by 160,000 by the year 2030, the report incorrectly stated, “Much of this residential and employment growth is expected to occur in the Downtown Hamilton Urban Growth Centre.” In fact, most of Hamilton’s growth will take place on the south mountain and suburbs and downtown population will only grow by six per cent. This was a critical error that would factor into the projected ridership available for LRT. Metrolinx estimated that LRT would attract 1950 passengers per hour, compared to the present usage of 1100 passengers per hour on all of the buses using the King Street corridor.
Even though the Metrolinx report did not explicitly endorse LRT, correspondence that appeared at the same time as the report’s release pointed to political pressure to present LRT in as favourable a light as possible. Gaspare Bonomo says he learned that a Metrolinx manager quit over the controversy with the Hamilton Benefits Case Analysis. While the study in question was conducted eight years ago, it is still the foundational document that is cited when supporters claim the LRT “has been studied to death.”