Fully funded LRT? Half of Hamilton council still won't say yes
Just half of council’s 16 members confirmed a commitment to LRT system if it's fully funded
Hamilton’s mayor announced Monday that the province is willing to fully fund the capital costs of light rail transit here, but the news did little to sway the minds of councillors unsure about LRT.
Fred Eisenberger told reporters that Premier Kathleen Wynne pledged 100-per cent capital funding for LRT in Hamilton. In her own media appearance, Wynne confirmed commitment to “rapid transit,” but declined to say light rail.
We still don’t have any information. We still don’t have a commitment. We still have confusion, but that’s about it.- Coun. Judi Partridge
Those opposed or uncertain about LRT continued to raise objections and reiterate their opposition Tuesday.
The news didn’t convince Coun. Judi Partridge of Ward 15 in Flamborough, who says she’s uncertain on LRT even if it does get full provincial funding.
“There is no change,” she said. “We still don’t have any information. We still don’t have a commitment. We still have confusion, but that’s about it.”
Only eight of council’s 16 members confirmed a commitment to a $1-billion LRT system on Tuesday if it's fully funded. Others say they have questions.
Eisenberger is still a fan, as are councillors Aidan Johnson, Jason Farr, Matthew Green and Sam Merulla, all from the lower city. Coun. Scott Duvall of Ward 7 called the Wynne meeting “great news” and says he still supports LRT with full provincial funding. Coun. Brenda Johnson also supports it with full funding, as does Coun. Maria Pearson of Ward 10, although "I'm not getting a warm and fuzzy feeling right now," Pearson said.
Coun. Tom Jackson of Ward 6 reserved comment on his LRT stance, saying he needed to know more about Monday's meeting.
But some others quizzed by CBC Hamilton say they have serious reservations about LRT, even if the province fully funds the capital costs.
My husband collects train sets. I can tell you that the train and the track are the cheapest part, and that’s just toys. That’s not the reality of transit for this city, which is so important.- Coun. Arlene VanderBeek
Partridge and Coun. Arlene VanderBeek of Ward 13 in Dundas cited unknown below-ground infrastructure costs as reasons they’re hesitant.
“My husband collects train sets. I can tell you that the train and the track are the cheapest part, and that’s just toys,” VanderBeek said. “That’s not the reality of transit for this city, which is so important.”
Coun. Rob Pasuta of Ward 14 in Flamborough says he opposes LRT even with full capital funding because his residents will end up paying to operate it. He was against it before Monday and he is now.
Coun. Chad Collins of Ward 5 has become a vocal opponent since the fall election, saying his residents don’t want it and that it will hurt business. He also took an active role in killing a two-kilometre downtown bus lane seen as a precursor to LRT. He said on Monday that the Eisenberger and Wynne news didn't sway him.
Coun. Doug Conley of Ward 9 wants a transit system that benefits everyone, and he doesn’t think LRT does.
Citizen panel vote coming
“It’s 13 kilometres and it doesn’t even take care of a lot of stuff we want to take care of,” he said. “The LRT doesn’t serve everybody.”
Eisenberger plans to introduce his citizens panel idea sometime in February. With the panel, the city will assemble citizens from various wards, but council has to approve its creation first.
I think we’ve made our decision…and I’m not sure why we’d want to necessarily move back on that.- Coun. Matthew Green
A brief survey of councillors show the panel may be a tough sell. Some anti-LRT councillors, such as Collins, have no issues with the panel, while Green, a pro-LRT councillor, doesn’t see the need for it.
The city engaged citizens extensively when creating its Rapid Ready report, Green said.
The city voted unanimously in favour of the report in 2013, which recommends eventual LRT, and nearly unanimously to back up its support for LRT last year.
'I think we've made our decision'
When it comes to question marks about LRT, “I’m not sure that those are answers we can expect to get from our citizens,” he said. “I think they’re answers we need to get from our province.”
“I think we’ve made our decision…and I’m not sure why we’d want to necessarily move back on that.”
Farr and Aidan Johnson were heartened by Monday’s news. Both cited the economic growth stemming from LRT and its benefits to the entire city, which have gotten “muddied” over the last few months, Farr said.
The panel, Farr said, “is a good, I think, in serving a purpose to remind folks of all of those reasons why it wasn’t that long ago that we were all unanimous.”
Farr reasons that Wynne may not have said LRT because she's balancing the politics of dealing with other cities too.
"Perhaps it has to do with all of the catchment area of the Big Move when she speaks as opposed to when our mayor speaks, it being about Hamilton," he said. "I can’t put myself in her head. I thought it was a productive use of time and it was good for all Hamiltonians."
Merulla planned to introduce a motion to reaffirm council’s position of LRT with full capital funding. Merulla says he will hold off on that until the result of the citizens panel.
Who spoke in favour of the citizens panel: Fred Eisenberger, Aidan Johnson, Jason Farr, Sam Merulla, Chad Collins (“I’m not against but I don’t see much coming from it because most people around the table have already made up their minds”), Scott Duvall
Undecided or leaning toward no: Tom Jackson (“I need to analyze exactly what transpired from yesterday”), Doug Conley (“I’ll have to find out what the advisory committee is going to advise on”), Maria Pearson, Brenda Johnson, Arlene VanderBeek, Robert Pasuta (“as far as I’m concerned, we still need to wait and see if there’s money”), Judi Partridge, Matthew Green
Unavailable: Terry Whitehead, Lloyd Ferguson