Earlier this month in response to a question from a CHCH reporter, Doug Ford made it clear where he stands on LRT. He said he is “Not prepared to put the burden of the tax on the backs of the people of Hamilton.” Ford was referring to the $1 Billion operating and maintenance cost of LRT over the next 30 years, working out to over $30 Million a year. He accused the Liberals and NDP of wanting “to ram this through,” not giving “two hoots” about the Hamilton taxpayer. He made his comments after months of relentless lobbying of not only Ford, but of Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna and anybody else who might be able to come up with cash for the project. The release of a redacted cost estimate for the project cast into some doubt the $5.5 Billion price tag that had been cited when the project was cancelled, although Friday Ford doubled down on the figure saying “we had experts go in there and it is $5.5 Billion-unequivocal.” Whatever the cost, it is a lot more than $1 Billion. With regard to McKenna, she is giving some hope to LRT advocates by suggesting money can be found as a COVID recovery project. But her staff told the Bay Observer that the total allocation for Ontario is $2 Billion split evenly with the province, and one has to ask what the chances are of Premier Ford allocating the entire sum to Hamilton? Minister McKenna said Hamilton LRT is the only transit project in Ontario that is shovel-ready. But is it? A glance at the minutes of the Metrolinx Board earlier this year reads, “on December 16, the Minister of Transportation announced the Hamilton LRT project would not be moving forward. CPG staff have begun a responsible and orderly wind down of project activities, including closing out contracts and discontinuing in-flight property acquisitions.“ Even if the government were to green-light the project, an unlikely prospect given Ford’s comments, the requalification of bidders and re-tendering process would eat up at least two years according to sources familiar with provincial transit tendering.
While all this is going on, communities in Ontario and elsewhere in Canada are moving quickly to adopt truly cutting edge, green and flexible transit technologies like electric buses, using innovative in-line charging technologies. Edmonton, whose winters are a lot colder than Hamilton’s has taken possession of more than 20 E-buses. London Ontario is undertaking a major study on E-buses. Their mayor has pledged to convert that city’s fleet entirely to electric. Guelph has just received $177 million to convert its fleet to E-Buses and Oakville is also getting some federal money to switch to electric. Interestingly the Oakville and Guelph funding announcements were made by the aforementioned Minister McKenna.
Rather than wasting more time waiting for this LRT dance to finally conclude, it is time for the majority on council who oppose LRT to seize the issue and send a resolution to the province that Hamilton wishes to proceed with Bus Rapid Transit utilizing electric buses where practical, coupled with the accelerated rollout of the BLAST network. This gets Hamilton a transit system that impacts all 15 wards of the city—not five, as we would get with LRT. The $1 Billion dollars promised by the Ford government is sufficient to pay for the whole scheme. The 20-odd kilometers of Bus Rapid Transit busway will create many person-years of construction work. BRT will still stimulate development along its route as it has in other communities where it exists now. If you want to get rid of area rating for transit you have to provide transit first. BRT plus BLAST does that. Council has already approved the BLAST network so what’s the delay? The money is available, a good Transit plan has been approved, all that’s missing is the political will to make it happen. Lets just do it.