Hamilton's transit union will continue its fight for a publicly run light rail transit (LRT) system, even after Metrolinx warned that the concept is a bad idea.

'They've punted it back to us to implode it.' - Coun. Sam Merulla

The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 107 represents HSR drivers, and has been fighting for the city-run transit agency to operate LRT. But in a letter to the city Friday, Metrolinx said that model is a big risk, even though the province will allow it.

Union president Eric Tuck says ATU isn't backing down.

The letter is misleading, he says. And he's worried it'll sway supportive city councillors. But "for ATU, this fight is not over."

The union will argue its case at an LRT committee meeting Friday. Most councillors voted to look into HSR operating LRT, and Tuck hopes that holds.

"I am concerned the fear mongering may get through," he said. "I'm hoping (councillors) take a stand and stand up for what we believe we deserve. That means not turning the keys over to a private consortium."

Metrolinx initially planned to hire a third party to design, build, finance, operate and maintain the system through a public-private partnership. Then this summer, as Metrolinx was getting interest from companies, city council asked if HSR could operate and maintain the system.

Metrolinx answered that question on Friday. Toronto and Ottawa run their own LRTs, it said, but it doesn't recommend that for Hamilton.

'I would rather our provincial treasury pay for operations than our over-strapped municipal treasury.' - Coun. Aidan Johnson

If HSR runs the system, Metrolinx said, the city will be on the hook for liability and cost overruns. It will also delay the project by as long as five months.

Tuck believes a publicly operated system will cost less than a private one. If there are overruns, he said, taxpayers will end up paying anyway, either through subsidies or fare increases. With a private model, they'll lose both money and control.

"Just like we've seen with Hydro One, privatization will cost us more."

Sam Merulla, Ward 4 councillor, wasn't impressed by the letter either.  "They've punted it back to us to implode it."

"Basically, they've told us no, in essence," he said, "but just in a politically crafty manner."

Terry Whitehead, Ward 8 councillor, agrees.

'You can't be half pregnant'

"I've never seen anything like that," he said. "You either support it or you don't. You can't be half pregnant."

Coun. Matthew Green of Ward 3 still wants HSR to operate LRT. He doesn't understand how the system will be too expensive for the city to run, but economically feasible for a private company.

Aidan Johnson, Ward 1 councillor, voted against HSR operating LRT. The letter didn't change his view.

He'll move a motion Friday for staff to report back on how much it will cost to run LRT. Whatever that cost is, he said, he'd rather the province handle it.

"To be spending municipal money to operate LRT in the city when Metrolinx is offering to shoulder that cost, I don't think that's the right thing for the city," he said.

"I would rather our provincial treasury pay for operations than our over-strapped municipal treasury."