Hamilton

Pro-LRT Hamilton residents will consider paying more taxes for it: labourers' union

A labourers' union in support of an LRT system in Hamilton says just over half of residents it hears from want the project go forward — and are willing to pay some increased taxes to run it.

Opponents to system say people will need to use HSR buses anyways

Hamilton coucillors have told CBC News they're concerned how much it would cost the city to run a light-rail transit system. (Metrolinx)

A labourers' union in support of light-rail transit (LRT) system in Hamilton says just over half the residents it hears from want the project go forward — and are willing to pay some increased taxes to run it.

LiUNA International says more people than ever are in favour of LRT after the federal and provincial governments brought a $3.4-billion deal to the table to build the system. The money is only for LRT, not bus rapid transit or another type of transit system.

But about a third of people the union reached said they still oppose. The rest are undecided. 

The route would be a 14-kilometre line from McMaster University to Eastgate Square, which would run alternately down King and Main streets.

The federal and provincial governments have said they'll each give Hamilton $1.7 billion for the project. If the city moves forward, it will be responsible for paying operating costs. 

Ontario Ministry of Transportation and Metrolinx officials will pitch the deal to city councillors at Wednesday's general issues committee. 

Mayor Fred Eisenberger plans to move a motion for city staff to meet with Metrolinx, the ministry and other government officials to develop a memorandum of understanding for LRT. 

If councillors vote in favour of the motion, the group would report back "as soon as possible" with a draft. 

Some people aren't fond of the LRT idea. 

The agenda package includes a letter and presentation from resident Gabriel Nicholson, who opposes the plan. He says the route is called the busiest transit corridor, but that this isn't true.

Riders may not start or end their trips along the line, he said in his letter, meaning they would have to use HSR buses anyhow. He said buses that use the corridor have a higher coverage area.

"It could be more to run HSR operations to interact with LRT than it currently costs," he said in the letter, noting a new cost benefit analysis should be undertaken. 

There are also letters on Wednesday's agenda those in favour, including one from Hamilton "anchor institutions" that includes Hamilton Health Sciences and ArcelorMittal Dofaso.

Union says jobs, connection to other transit foster support

The union said it surveyed 1,009 Hamiltonians aged 18 and older to learn how they viewed LRT, and those supporting it tended to be under 55. 

While more provincial Liberal, NDP and "undecided voters" said they were in favour, according to the union, people who were opposed were most commonly PC voters.

The union listed aspects that garner more LRT support, including new jobs, 17 stops with connections to the bus network and GO Transit, and the route itself. While there have been several versions, this one reverts to the original plan. 

Respondents had to decide whether these potential benefits and the dollar figures on government funding would change their mind on LRT.

Some, in fact, did — when asked again if they would support the project, those in favour bumped up to 60 per cent. But those who opposed declined by only two per cent. 

Just under half of people surveyed by LiUNA said they weren't willing to pay more taxes to support an LRT system in Hamilton. (City of Hamilton)

Those surveyed were split on whether they'd be willing to pay some increased taxes.

About 54 per cent of people said they'd be less likely to support the project if the city was responsible for operating and maintenance costs, and if those raised taxes between $40 and $60 a year. 

But when given different price options, the lowest being $30 to $39 increase per year, just over half said they would consider pitching in some money, with most selecting that lowest amount.

Just under half said they weren't willing to pay any more. 

Ontario Liberal, NDP and undecided voters were also more supportive of paying more taxes, the union said, while PC voters were "quite opposed."

Coun. Brad Clark (Ward 9, upper Stoney Creek) and Coun. Maria Pearson (Ward 10, lower Stoney Creek) have both stated opposition to LRT, and Coun. Tom Jackson (Ward 6, east Mountain) has worried about increased costs. 

Ford poses with LiUNA international vice president Joseph Mancinelli in 2018. (LiUNA Facebook page)

The LRT itself dates back to 2007, when the city used a Metrolinx grant for an environmental assessment. In 2015, the previous Ontario Liberals committed $1 billion to the project. 

After the provincial government cancelled the project in December 2019 — citing cost overruns and saying Hamilton couldn't afford it — the union decided to crunch its own numbers to persuade Premier Doug Ford to revive it.

The province said in February that it would give $1 billion to LRT, but only if the federal government helped out too. 

Both levels of government announced last month that they'd spend a combined $3.4 billion to build the system, but it had to be LRT from McMaster to Eastgate Square. 

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