Ryan McGreal is the editor of Raise the Hammer, a local civic affairs website. He lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant.
When former Toronto Mayor David Crombie spoke in Hamilton last November, he decried those divisive politicians who "drive a wedge into the city and grab the bigger piece."
With our own Mayor's job up for grabs this October, the temptation to play Hamilton's solitudes against each other must be hard to resist.
It has proven irresistible to mayoral hopeful Brad Clark, who wants to turn the city's light rail transit (LRT) plan into a wedge issue he can drive between the city's urban and suburban voters.
This is a problem for Clark, who would frame the issue as a win-lose conflict. He has resorted to making entirely unsupported claims about LRT to try and turn voters against this transformative opportunity.
'We will be left behind – again – as those cities attract more investment, residents and jobs.' - Ryan McGreal
The plan for an east-west LRT line between Eastgate and McMaster will bring large net benefits to Hamilton. It means new private investment and economic development, higher property tax revenue, better use of our municipal infrastructure and a more affordable transit cost structure – a win-win proposition for the whole city.
Clark claims the LRT and a north-south bus rapid transit system will cost $73.5 million a year to operate. However, the City's own LRT plan, approved unanimously by Council last year, notes that the entire transit system – LRT and buses combined – will cost $51 million a year to operate.
Since LRT has a lower operating cost per-passenger than buses but attracts many more riders, a combined LRT and bus system will be $7 million a year cheaper to operate than a bus-only system, despite carrying 30 percent more passengers overall.
When you add LRT, the average net operating cost per transit ride drops from $2.28 to $1.51. Cost savings on LRT help pay for higher service levels on bus lines.
Clark claims the projected increase in new private investment around an LRT is "overly rosy" without providing any critique of the City's analysis. The expected boost in new taxable assessment is actually a very conservative worst-case estimate. If anything, the actual increase in private investment will be much higher.
Clark also insists Hamilton will have to pay "millions if not hundreds of millions of dollars" for capital upgrades even if the Province pays 100% of the capital cost of LRT.
This is pure conjecture. The province has not made a funding commitment yet and has not specified what it will cover.
If Hamilton turns down a fully-funded LRT, we will end up paying millions of dollars more per year for a transit system that will carry far fewer passengers.
Even worse, we will still have to help pay for LRT in Toronto, Mississauga, Kitchener-Waterloo and other GTA municipalities. We will be left behind – again – as those cities attract more investment, residents and jobs.
Opposition to LRT might be a savvy political tactic but it makes absolutely no business sense and fails the most important test of leadership: the ability to see the big picture and unite the public under a common interest.