Hamilton council confirms that it wants HSR to run LRT - but will Metrolinx listen?

Hamilton city council made final its decision to ask Metrolinx to let the city's transit agency to run the new light rail transit (LRT) system.
Amalgamated Transit Union Local 107 members rally at a city hall earlier this month to encourage councillors to support HSR running LRT. City council will cast a final vote on that Friday. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

It's official — Hamilton city council wants its transit agency to run the new light rail transit (LRT) system.

But Metrolinx's head of the project says he's still not sure if the province will agree.

Councillors cast a ratification vote Friday to push for HSR to run the line, which is scheduled to open in 2024.

Metrolinx has already issued a request for qualification for consortiums to design, build, finance, operate and maintain LRT. HSR can only do two of those.

Andrew Hope, Metrolinx's head of the Hamilton LRT project, says the agency and the province will examine the request. That includes whether it's fair to just pick an operator outside of a competitive bid process.

"We want to maintain an open and fair procurement process that's fair to people who have submitted bids," he said. 

Coun. Matthew Green moved the motion to advocate for HSR running the system. He described it as a starting position for negotiations. He also said choosing HSR would mean the jobs will remain local and unionized, and that a public-private partnership is effectively privatizing the busy transit route.

Council voted 11-2. But it's not an easy issue. 

One councillor in favour of LRT — Aidan Johnson of Ward 1 — voted against Green's motion. Lloyd Ferguson of Ward 12 did too at the committee level, fearing it would slow down the schedule. City staff confirmed that possibility.

Ferguson also said it risks pushing LRT construction past the next provincial election, making it vulnerable to a change in government.

Hope said it's too early to know how Metrolinx and the province will respond, and what will happen to the results of the request for qualifications.

Who was in favour:

Matthew Green (Ward 3), Sam Merulla (4), Chad Collins (5), Tom Jackson (6), Donna Skelly (7), Terry Whitehead (8), Maria Pearson (10), Arlene VanderBeek (13), Judi Partridge (15), Jason Farr (2), Brenda Johnson (11)

Who was opposed:

Aidan Johnson (1), Robert Pasuta (14)

Here's what else is on the agenda:

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