A Hamilton mayoral hopeful is calling on the city to immediately set up a citizen forum on public transit.

'The people of Hamilton are saying they need more information on public transit options.' - Mayoral candidate Fred Eisenberger

Fred Eisenberger, one of seven candidates for mayor in the October election, says the city should create a representative citizen forum now to host a series of public meetings.

The meetings would help inform people and then the citizen forum would be able to be advise council on transit options, before the fall municipal election.

The city has stated that it wants light rail transit if it’s fully funded by the province, and also hopes for bus rapid transit.

“The people of Hamilton are saying they need more information on public transit options, including LRT, so let’s not wait,” said Eisenberger, an LRT supporter who was mayor from 2006 to 2010.

Eisenberger wants a forum that includes people from throughout Hamilton to look at information on light and bus rapid transit and report back to city hall. 

He wants to use the process to "assess all options at public meetings held throughout the entire city as frequently as necessary to inform them (the public) and get substantial community feedback."

'He must have been in Toronto.' - Coun. Brad Clark on the city's past public consultation

Eisenberger supports LRT because it will bring investment dollars to the community, he said in a media release Tuesday. But residents are concerned about its cost.

“We need to talk about the benefits and the real return on investment from modern public transit and most importantly, we need to address the concerns of the people,” he said.

Messaging concerns

But Brian McHattie, mayoral hopeful and councillor for Ward 1, worries that a public forum will send a message to the province that Hamilton is uncertain about LRT.

Council has already spent $10 million in Metrolinx money to do a partial design of LRT, and it submitted it to the province early last year, McHattie said. A public forum "may set us back."

"I'd be concerned that we'd fall off that list of cities that are ready to go."

Eisenberger feels with inconsistent messages from other members of council — Mayor Bob Bratina in particular has come under fire for allegedly not representing council's position on LRT — that the province knows Hamilton is wary.

"The province is already uncertain as the result of misinformation and lack of clarity that’s happened over last three or four years, not withstanding a council resolution that I’m not sure most councillors are particularly on board for," he said.

Coun. Brad Clark of Stoney Creek is also a mayoral candidate. The city did extensive public consultation in 2011 when it developed its Rapid Ready transit report, he said. He's not sure why it needs to do it again.

"I don't know where he's been," he said. "We had huge public consultation.

"He must have been in Toronto."

Slow down on school closings

McHattie made an announcement of his own on Tuesday. He called on the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board to slow down its plans to close 11 Hamilton elementary schools.

He also wants the board to look at developing partnerships to share schools with excess space, and to work with the city in lobbying the province to change the provincial funding formula.

“Given the challenges the HWDSB is facing with enrolment numbers, the city of Hamilton and the board must work together if we’re going to try to stop strong neighbourhoods from being weakened by losing their schools,” he said.

The province announced $15 billion for transit in the Greater Hamilton and Toronto area in its budget this week, but the budget was defeated, triggering a June provincial election.

The announcement was for "rapid transit" in Hamilton, without specifying LRT. Transportation minister Glen Murray reiterated on his Twitter account Tuesday afternoon that the province would fund rapid transit from that money.

"Funding for #HamOnt's Rapid transit project will be drawn from the GTHA region transit fund as described in the budget," he tweeted.

"To be clear. A Liberal gov't will fund 100% of the capital costs of the #HamOnt proposed rapid transit line. As we committed we will electrify the GO lines to #HamOnt & provide #HamOnt with 2 way,15 minute GO service."