Mayoral candidate Brad Clark has released his own transit plan for Hamilton, pledging improvements over the next eight years that he says will eventually lead to dedicated bus lanes and even, in the long run, light rail transit (LRT).

Clark released what he’s branded a SmartTransit plan, which focuses on beefing up the city-wide transit system, including the suburbs. It includes the A line to the airport, the B line from Dundas to Stoney Creek, and investing $2 to $3 million every year for the next 10 years.

Clark cited York Region’s Viva BRT as a model. Nearly 10 years ago, it started a “BRT lite” system along five corridors, he said. (Metrolinx says it doesn't currently use that phrase.) The region identified the busiest corridors and is now building dedicated bus lanes, he said, with an eye on LRT in the future.

The idea, Clark said, is to spread transit improvements around the city.

“Population projects for the city show that by 2021, lower Hamilton will grow by 5,255 compared to the combined 47,528 in Stoney Creek, Hamilton Mountain, Glanbrook, Ancaster and Flamborough,” he said in a release.

“We need to start planning our transit system around where the demand is, not where we want to be.”

Before the city invests municipal or provincial tax dollars on LRT, he said, the city needs to “fix the gaps in our existing transit network.”

The city has been studying LRT since at least 2007. In 2009, it used a $3-million Metrolinx grant for preliminary designs. The current planned LRT line would run 13 kilometres from McMaster University to Eastgate Square. Metrolinx estimates that as of 2014, it would cost $1 billion to build.

Transit has become a wedge issue in the mayoral race leading up to the Oct. 27 municipal election. Clark says Hamilton won’t be ready for LRT “in the next 20 to 30 years,” and the city should instead pursue BRT.

The province and Metrolinx identify BRT as dedicated bus lanes, but Clark says his version of BRT is a beefed-up version of Hamilton’s existing bus system. 

Clark’s main challengers, Brian McHattie and Fred Eisenberger, say Clark’s plan to increase buses takes Hamilton out of the running for $15 billion in provincial funding announced for rapid transit in the Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area over the next 10 years.

McHattie released a transit plan in May that included enhancing the A-line Express on Upper James and increasing local bus service.

"Brad Clark keeps changing his mind about his transit plans," McHattie said. "He voted for LRT twice. Then, he said he wanted enhanced BRT. Then he said he didn't want full BRT. Now, he's saying he doesn't want BRT at all. There's still more than a week left in the campaign. Will there be a fourth iteration of his transit plans?"

On Clark’s usage of the phrase “BRT” without dedicated lanes and infrastructure, “clearly he should know better, certainly at this point, with all the information that’s been out there,” Eisenberger said.

McHattie and Eisenberger also say that LRT will bring greater economic spinoff. McHattie says council’s position on LRT is clear, while Eisenberger wants to have a citizen’s panel.

Local LRT advocate Ryan McGreal calls Clark's plan "a step backward." Hamilton has been building up its B line for 30 years, he said. The ridership is already high enough for LRT.

Studies show that LRT boosts ridership, and that money can be used to fund the system and improve transit, he said.

"He’s suggesting we need to expand bus service to communities, but two are not contradictory."

Here’s what Clark’s eight-year transit plan entails:

  • Developing a new brand and identity for Hamilton Street Railway (HSR).
  • Building a flexible BRT system across the entire city on the following corridors:
    - ‘A Line’ from the Hamilton International Airport via Mohawk College, St. Joseph’s Hospital, the central business district, the new James St North GO Station to the waterfront
    - ‘B Line’ from University Plaza in Dundas to Eastgate Square in Stoney Creek
    - Centennial Parkway from the new Centennial GO Station to Elfrida and on to Binbrook with improvements to the TransCab service in Glanbrook.
    - Rymal Road from Elfrida to the Ancaster Business Park
    - Highway 8 from Eastgate Square to the future Fifty Road GO Bus Terminal
  • Enhancing service in Waterdown and improving connections to the Aldershot GO Station and the Hamilton and Burlington transit systems.
  • Expanding transit service in Ancaster, Stoney Creek and Dundas to providing service throughout the day, seven days a week.
  • Launching a pilot project for local bus service in Stoney Creek from the future Fifty Road GO Bus terminal along North Service Road to the new Centennial GO Station.
  • Increasing the frequency, service hours and coverage area by investing $2 to $3 million each year for the next 10 years to provide a consistent level of reliable transit service citywide.
  • Developing transit-only accesses at major transit terminals including Eastgate Square and Limeridge Mall to improving operations and reduce delay.
  • Maintaining option to convert future dedicated bus lanes to LRT based on demand and finances.
  • Ending the dedicated bus lane pilot project on King Street East.