As expected, by the same 9-6 margin as was the case at last week’s GIC meeting, Hamilton city council has authorized staff to negotiate a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Metrolinx that will move the Hamilton LRT project another step closer to realization. This will be the second MOU the city has negotiated with Metrolinx in the journey that began in 2007. It’s a four-part resolution, three of which are largely aspirational. One part of the resolution recommends approval of a scenario which “anticipates a system-wide 8% ridership increase after the Hamilton Light Rail Transit (LRT) is operating and a reduction of 29 buses in the LRT area, which will result in a net operating and maintenance cost of $6.4 million annually for the LRT,”
Nobody at this stage can anticipate whether an 8 percent increase in traffic will ensue, especially since staff have indicated they have no idea what the ridership impact will be when LRT displaces several bus routes already serving the corridor. Also, claiming a saving achieved by taking 29 buses out of service, would only work, if the decision is to permanently reduce the Bus fleet by that amount. But at last week’s GIC meeting staff pointed out that the city is committed to increasing bus hours elsewhere in the city by an amount greater than the supposed savings from cancelling buses from the LRT corridor. The best guess of the operating and Maintenance cost to the Hamilton taxpayer is still the full $20 Million annually estimated by Metrolinx, possibly even more, depending on any increase in bus hours of service that will be added over and above the displaced buses.
The motion also makes the suggestion that a future council scrap the downtown Hamilton CIPA development charge (DC) exemption which would find another $8 Million to apply against the LRT costs. However, a staff report strongly recommended against that move, saying the downtown economy is still fragile enough that the support is needed. Councilors who voted for LRT as a way of supporting downtown development, would likely find themselves up against the same development community, who will not want to see the subsidies reduced, LRT or no LRT.