Hamilton councillors voted unanimously to send a report on the city’s expectations for rapid transit to Metrolinx on Monday, with one caveat — they want the province to pick up all the capital costs for the project.

Councillors were wary of the report’s initial language, which capped the capital funding for the project at $800 million.

"Hamiltonians are no different than Toronto people that got 100 per cent funding," said Coun. Lloyd Ferguson, adding that all capital costs should be covered by the province.

Metrolinx spokesperson Malon Edwards clarified that it is Metrolinx's intention to fund the capital costs for rapid transit in Hamilton.

"One of Metrolinx’s priorities for the 'next wave' of projects is rapid transit in Hamilton," Edwards told CBC Hamilton in an email. "The 'next wave' of projects requires a funding source, which is part of the focus of the big conversation in which we are currently engaging GTHA residents.

"It is our intention that funding for the Hamilton project, like other projects across the GTHA, would be provided through Metrolinx’s upcoming investment strategy, which we will be delivering to municipalities and the province by June 1."

When asked if that meant Metrolinx intends to fund 100 per cent of the capital costs of Hamilton’s rapid transit plan, Edwards said yes.

Hamilton City Manager Chris Murray told council on Monday he’s hoping that the province will review the plan put forth by the city, and decide whether they'll support it or not by May or June.

He says the province's offer is an important one, "and one we need to seize in order to get our fair share."

Here’s what council is asking for from Metrolinx:

  • 100 per cent of capital costs on LRT
  •  An operating budget of $12.2 million a year for LRT from day one
  • $107 million in funding to improve Hamilton’s existing transit system

Shaping a city with transit

Councillors heard from numerous delegations during Monday’s seven-hour long meeting — and all supported LRT as a necessity for the city in the future.

"This is about building healthy neighbourhoods," Murray said. "Kid yourself not. It's about how we grow this community of ours."

Dr. Ninh Tran, Hamilton’s associate medical officer of health, told councillors the city’s transportation system "should put people first," and that cars should be "an option, not a necessity."

He said better public transit could help to make Hamiltonians significantly healthier.

Both David Adames, president and CEO of the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, and Sara Mayo, a social planner with the Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton, threw their support behind LRT in the city, too.

"Infrastructure is key to development," Adames said. "Send Hamilton's Rapid Ready Report to Metrolinx."

Bixi in Hamilton?

LRT wasn’t the only transit option presented to councillors Monday afternoon – they also heard from city staff about the possibility of starting a bikeshare program. However, councillors were significantly cooler on that idea.

A bikeshare program – like the Bixi Bikes used in Toronto – would allow Hamiltonians to quickly rent bikes from turnstile locations throughout the city and use them as needed.

According to Peter Topalovic, head of mobility programs and special projects with the city, a bikeshare program with 35 locations and 300 bikes (along with staff and maintenance) would cost $1.6 million – or the price of two buses. Funds for the program would come through Metrolinx’s "Quick Wins" program, and would not cost the city anything.

Coun. Tom Jackson responded that he didn't think a bikeshare system was the right project to invest in. "I'm not crazy about the optics of this," he said.

Coun. Terry Whitehead questioned whether there were areas within Hamilton’s transit program that would give better "bang for the buck" for that amount of money – like repairing bus shelters.

He also expressed concern that people with disabilities might take issue with equity, as they can't use bikeshare service.

"I’m worried it could be a slippery slope," he said.

Council moved to refer the bike-sharing report back to staff for more information about costs and legal liability. The issue is expected to return to council in late March.