Hamilton

Have HSR operate the new LRT system, says transit union campaign

HSR

The union representing HSR drivers says HSR should operate the new LRT system. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

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Hamilton's transit union has launched a campaign to try to encourage public officials to hire HSR drivers to run the new light rail transit (LRT) system. To do otherwise, it says, would hand over a major transit route to a private company.

The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 107 has launched a "Keep Transit Public" website, petition and video this week.

The union wants city council to "assert its preference" to Metrolinx that HSR operate and maintain the $1 billion system, which will launch in 2024.

The petition also calls for Metrolinx to remove the "operate and maintain" portions of a bid to finance, design, build, operate and maintain the system.

Having a third party operate LRT through a public-private partnership would be privatizing transit, which "we know from multiple examples doesn't work," said president Eric Tuck.

"It ends up more costly, less safe, and robs our communities of our shared public assets and good jobs," he said in a statement.

This campaign happens just as Metrolinx is shortlisting bidders to run the new system, with plans to announce the winning bidder in the spring.

The province is paying to build LRT, which will run alternately down Main and King streets from McMaster University to Eastgate Square. Construction starts in 2019.

Line risks privatization, union says

The ATU has said all along that HSR operators should operate the new system, and it's had support among some councillors.

Coun. Tom Jackson of Ward 6, for example, has said local job creation is key in his support for the project.

For a while, it was questionable whether LRT would happen at all. More than half of city council seemed against the project, which at the time, was supposed to stop at the Queenston traffic circle in the east.

Then the line was extended — achieved by trimming plans within the existing $1 billion, the province says — and councillors voted 10-5 to move ahead. Even the project's biggest opponent on council admitted it was probably unstoppable.

Tuck said the issue isn't finished. The line risks being entirely privatized, likely by a large multinational corporation.

'It makes no sense to lose local control'

Metrolinx is only accepting bids from companies that can supply all the components of the LRT line, from financing to maintaining the system, he said. So HSR can't compete.

The only companies who can, he said, are large consortiums.

"It makes no sense to lose local control to an international consortium of huge companies who know nothing about Hamilton," he said.

"Metrolinx and the Liberal government are wrong to push a procurement practice that essentially dismisses the very people who built Hamilton and are ultimately paying the bills."

"You better believe we're going to make this an election issue in Hamilton and beyond."

samantha.craggs@cbc.ca | @SamCraggsCBC

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