Metrolinx should have studied BRT more before Hamilton LRT pledge: auditor general

The province should have looked into bus rapid transit (BRT) more before it pledged to build Hamilton's light rail transit (LRT) system, says a new report from Ontario's Auditor General.

'I don't agree with her,' mayor says

Ontario auditor general Bonnie Lysyk at the news conference releasing her 2017 annual report. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

The province should have looked into bus rapid transit (BRT) more before it pledged to build Hamilton's light rail transit (LRT) system, says a new report from Ontario's Auditor General.

We've had this debate. This is not news.- Mayor Fred Eisenberger

Bonnie Lysyk released a report Wednesday saying Metrolinx tested the benefits of light rail transit (LRT) against various development scenarios along the line. But it had only tested BRT against a moderate level of new development.

Metrolinx recommended in late 2014 that the province do another business case looking at "alternative options" before it decided to pay for LRT, Lysyk's report says. But that didn't happen.

"Metrolinx did not do any further analysis before the province committed to funding the LRT in May 2015."

Mayor Fred Eisenberger disputes that Metrolinx needed to study BRT versus LRT more.

"I was (on the Metrolinx board) at the time when they were doing the evaluation, and I was pretty convinced there was a thorough look at both," he said. "I don't agree with her."

Yes, BRT would be cheaper to build, he said. But LRT has broader benefits she didn't mention in the report. That includes boosting the city's transit ridership numbers, he said, and having construction crews replacing aging infrastructure along the B-Line.

"We've had this debate," he said. "This is not news."

LRT versus BRT has long been part of Hamilton's rapid transit conversation.

Some councillors have said they prefer BRT — which is cheaper to build, but still requires dedicated lanes and infrastructure. Others describe a preference for what Metrolinx calls "BRT Light," where buses run at least partially in mixed traffic. It's the cheapest option, previous reports have said, but also has fewer economic benefits.

The province said in 2015 that it would pay the full capital cost (about $1 billion) to build LRT in the Main-King corridor from McMaster University to Eastgate Square.

Metrolinx is currently selecting a consortium to design, build, finance, operate and maintain the project, which should be announced in early 2019. LRT is scheduled to launch in 2024.

Lysyk also pointed in her report to money wasted on projects because a city or the province changed their minds partway through. She said that Metrolinx has spent $436 million in unrecoverable costs on rapid transit projects cancelled or changed.

There's a risk of Hamilton city council changing its mind too. It still has to vote to sign a legally binding master agreement. Meanwhile, Metrolinx has already spent or committed $170 million toward the project, including $49 million buying properties.

Lysyk's report said late-stage changes to projects led to millions in delays and cost overruns. A Scarborough LRT project, for example, cost $75 million before Toronto council killed it.

"After certain projects were announced or agreed on, the provincial and municipal governments changed their decisions on what to build and when to build, even though significant investments had already been made," Lysyk said.

Toronto ended up paying Metrolinx that $75 million through a legal settlement.

About the Author

Samantha Craggs

Reporter

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca