You have to feel some sympathy for any transportation planner trying to map out a transit plan for the GTAH in the current political climate. Metrolinx, which started out with much promise as an independent agency that would bring some coordination to the checkerboard of transit systems in the region has in more recent times fallen prey to political interference, resulting in some cases in colossally bad transit investments. While Metrolinx spends tens of millions of dollars every year to engage the best transit consultants available, and uses that expertise to craft comprehensive transit plans that will take us to 2041 and beyond; it can all come to nothing when politics rears its head. Take as a case in point the government’s approval of a $3.35 Billion dollar one-stop subway extension in Scarborough. Metrolinx had originally recommended a 7-stop LRT line at a fraction of the cost. And unlike the proposed Hamilton LRT, the Scarborough version would have its own right of way, thus ensuring transit speeds similar to a subway. For the $3.35 Billion, Scarborough could get an LRT network of 25 stations that would connect hospital, schools and most other key points in Scarborough. All this because the Liberals needed a campaign goodie to ensure the election of Education Minister Mitzie Hunter in a 2013 by-election in Scarborough. The subway plan came right out of the blue with no input from Metrolinx.
More recently we have the episode of Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca putting his thumb on the scales to obtain a $100 Million GO station in his riding against the advice of Metrolinx. The Toronto Star reported that Del Duca’s ministry had actually drafted press releases to announce the station and had not advised Metrolinx. Not only was the station not approved, but was warned against by Metrolinx whose analysis determined that the station would have a negative effect on the rail network. Under intense pressure from Del Duca and the Ministry Metrolinx caved in and agreed to the station. Is it any wonder that within months of that decision a number of Senior Metrolinx executives quit. Bruce McCuaig’s resignation as President & CEO to take a job with the federal Infrastructure Bank was well publicised; but also resigning were the key senior members of McCuaig’s team–John Jensen, Chief Capital Officer, Matthew Baynie, Vice President, GO Operations, and Daryl Barnett, Vice President Network Infrastructure– all senior executives involved with planning and expanding the GO network. Most of this year Metrolinx has been a rudderless ship being run by consultants, who themselves did not know who to report to. Hopefully, the situation is on its way to being remedied with the appointment of Phil Verster, most recently the head of Scottish Rail as CEO. Somewhat strangely, in announcing Verster’s appointment Rob Prichard, chair of the Metrolinx board, said Metrolinx “did not want a politician but someone with “deep” experience,”—an odd comment given the almost totally political underpinning of every major decision made by Metrolinx.
All of which brings us to Hamilton, whose LRT project showed up last on a list of Metrolinx projects described as “in delivery” in a Metrolinx presentation to council last month. After four months the city finally got an answer on whether the HSR should operate and maintain the LRT—(yes to operate, but please don’t…no to maintaining the system). Unanswered was whether the existing $1 Billion budget will allow for the extension of the system to Eastgate Square. That promise was thrown in at the last minute during the marathon council meeting that allowed the project to continue, again a political announcement from Del Duca with no advance warning to Metrolinx. The agency seems unwilling or unable to share any information about the infrastructure requirements to allow all-day Go service to Hamilton, leading councillors to wonder how we can be investing upwards of $100 Million on new stations between Hamilton and Niagara with no plan in place to operate trains. In addition there is apparent unrest by some members of council who voted last spring to allow LRT to continue to the next step. CBC Hamilton reported that an ad-hoc group of councillors were planning on meeting with the premier’s office to discuss transit issues. The Bay Observer learned that while there may not be a formal council-sanctioned committee formed there is apparently some attempt to open a line of communication with Queen’s park that does not involve Mayor Eisenberger, who told the CBC he had no knowledge of such a committee. One source told the Bay Observer that the group of councillors want to ensure that the Premier is getting a true picture of the city’s transit needs.