Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Tuesday May 17, 2016
Wavering on building LRT
Spectator Editorial – Now that the LRT pot is on the front burner at full boil, it would be wise for everyone to take a deep breath.
Yes, it’s disappointing that city council didn’t take the opportunity to render a public display of support at last week’s meeting. They should have. But as our elected representatives, they have a right to express reservations and ask for more information and time. Hopefully putting it off for a week — the matter is back before council in its general issues committee form tomorrow — will give staff the time to provide the requisite information and councillors time to reflect.
But if the matter is deferred again tomorrow, it will be more problematic. Quite simply, the time has come for council to send another clear, unequivocal message to the province: Thanks for the billion dollars, and yes, we will use it to build LRT.
Arguments against LRT these days tend to fall into two categories. It’s not something Hamilton needs now or ever, or it might be something Hamilton needs, but it’s premature.
The first argument is the territory occupied by people who simply don’t believe in modern, environmentally sound, economically catalytic public transit. Those of us who support improving and modernizing transit probably aren’t going to convince this crowd. Their minds are closed. They’re the ones who think the HSR in its current form was good enough in the ’70s and ’80s, so it’s good enough for the future, perhaps with a few tweaks around the edges.
The other anti-LRT position — that it’s premature — is more interesting and promising. You can make a solid case LRT might be a better fit eight or 10 years on, when the rest of our transit system is still not optimized to get full value from having LRT as a transit fulcrum. But here’s the thing: a billion provincial dollars.
It’s unlikely that any time in the foreseeable future a provincial government is going to believe enough in the transformative potential of LRT that they’re going to put a billion on the table. That’s what we have right now. The money is earmarked for LRT in Hamilton. Not BRT. Not general transit improvements. The province agreed to fund LRT.
We know there are at least two councillors — Chad Collins, who is pushing for a referendum on the issue, and Donna Skelly — who say they will say no to that money. It’s hard to imagine a majority of council will make the same mistake.
Even if the timing isn’t perfect, it is workable. This isn’t entirely about LRT, after all. It’s about efficient, modern transit across the city, with routes, vehicles and schedules effectively integrated to use LRT as the spine of a modern public transit system. No one is asking us to choose LRT over fixing the rest of the system. With or without LRT, we’ll have to do that. This is a $1 billion opportunity Hamilton can’t afford to miss. We’re betting most councillors know that. (Source: Hamilton Spectator)