New LRT petition reignites public debate

Public discussion over Waterloo Region's Light Rail Transit project has flared up again after a Waterloo businessman started a petiton to shut down the project.

Transportation committee says light rail train 'unstoppable'

This conceptual drawing by the Region of Waterloo compares how King Street at the Grand River Hospital before and after light rail (Region of Waterloo)

Public discussion over Waterloo Region's Light Rail Transit project has flared up again after a Waterloo businessman started a petiton to shut down the project.

Consultations on the project ended in 2011, and the region approved $818-million to fund the first phase from Kitchener's Fairview Park Mall to Conestoga Mall in Waterloo.

But Ted Livingston, founder and CEO of Kik Interactive, says though he was an inital supporter of the project he felt he had to take action upon taking a more in-depth look at the plan.

"I was for light rail transit in theory, but I am against light rail transit in reason," Livingston told host Craig Norris on The Morning Edition on Thursday.

"I realized that the entire project is about emotion. It's 'We need mass transit' 'Waterloo is going to grow and our roads will get crowded,' all these sort of very high-level problems... but no reason."

'The Ion has left the station'—Jim Wideman, chair, Waterloo Region Planning and Works Committee

Waterloo Region's Planning and Works committee hopes light rail transit will encourage more people to use public transit. Its goal is to increase the number of commuters from four to 15 per cent.

But Livingston is skeptical the plan will work.

"The real crux of the issue is how do you get people to switch from cars to LRT? There are two types of people in Waterloo [Region] today. Those of us that take the bus and those of us that drive. Everybody that takes the bus today will take LRT tomorrow. Zero savings in the number of cars on the road. For the people that drive today, for myself it's pretty simple: what's going to be faster?

Livingston calculates for someone like him, who lives and works on the transit corridor, it would take him a total of 17-18 minutes by light rail, but four minutes by car.

"For me to take the LRT, let's forget that I have to go wait outside in the cold or the rain, let's forget that I lose all the flexibility of going to the gym after work. It's going to take me five times as long."

The issue sparked a heated conversation on The Morning Edition's live chat Thursday morning, dividing light rail supporters and detractors, and leaving Livingston defending his views.

'Preposterous comments'

Livingston spoke at a special council meeting Wednesday morning where the contract to acquire 14 light rail trains from Bombardier and Metrolinx was debated and eventually approved.

Jim Wideman, the chair of the region's Planning and Works committee said Livingston didn't gain any supporters.

"He made some pretty preposterous comments. He suggested for instance that 'all of you councillors ran in the [2010 municipal election] and said you opposed the LRT and after you got elected, you favoured LRT' which is simply categorically incorrect."

Wideman says Livingston's opposition, and petition, simply come too late.

"This train is not stoppable now. But there will always be resistence, where people will be non-believers until they can actually ride the train," said Wideman. "The Ion has left the station, there's no question about that."

14 trains acquired under budget; tunnel over budget

Councillors approved 11-1 a $92.4 million contract with Bombardier, through a partnership with Metrolinx, to purchase 14 light rail vehicles.

Coming in under budget by about $2.6 million, the contract includes trains, spare parts, special tools, a reserve fund and a letter of credit, should Bombardier fail to fulfill its contract.

Bombardier will have a full-size light rail train on display at the Region of Waterloo headquarters in Kitchener on Saturday from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. at 150 Frederick St.

Councillors also voted to approve cost overruns related to a tunnel that runs beneath the Conestoga Parkway between Homer Watson Boulevard and Courtland Avenue. Since February, the cost of the construction work has ballooned to $11 million, about $2.5 million over what was expected.

The tunnel must be widened to accommodate the double tracking of the Canadian National Railway line with the region's light rail.

The contract to design, build, finance, operate and maintain the LRT line is expected to be awarded to one of the three groups of companies in the running in March or April of 2014.

Service on the light rail transit line running between Fairview Park and Conestoga malls is slated to begin in 2017.