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Transit, Passivity, and Hamilton's Need for Leadership

Hamilton City Council's approach to light rail transit (LRT) highlights a wider issue: Council is not in touch with the needs of most Hamiltonians, and is far too passive as a whole to be taking any true leading stance on this city's future.

Passivity and complacency: these are not options, they are pitfalls. They're failures to act, and while perhaps they're useful in certain situations— they're not universal in their applicability. It is we citizens, the people of Hamilton that this council represents by making decisions for us on our behalf, who suffer the most when they apply passivity and complacency as universal solutions.

Yet that's what they're doing.

It's an unfortunate reality, but the problem is a lot bigger than just "dropping the ball" on LRT, and I don't feel comfortable pretending otherwise.

So who am I to be so critical about this? Why do I even think my opinion is pertinent, and reflective of reality in regards to Hamilton needing to pursue LRT?

Good question, hypothetical questioner!

I was born and raised in Hamilton in a single-parent family that did not have the means to afford a vehicle. I more or less grew up on public transit. To this day, that hasn't changed. It has become a staple of my daily life. Having grown up in Hamilton, and now attending McMaster — and having a job that is located outside of Hamilton, there is quite literally not a day that goes by where I do not spend at least two hours on public transit.

Whether it's commuting to work, going to school, or visiting some friends, my transportation mode is always the same: public transit. Because of this, I've seen my fair share of the problems that can arise with buses, our current public transit mode of choice. Namely, our transit service is frequently plagued by failure to adhere to schedules stemming from unrealistic route planning. Even worse, on certain routes our city's buses suffer daily from severe over-capacity.

I'm not blaming the HSR or its operators for this. They do a wonderful job given the limited resources they have. No, I place my blame on city council for not realizing exactly what this city really needs: a strong, dependable and well-funded transit system. Many people in this city rely on our public transit service, but the reality is that it's simply not as comprehensive as it needs to be.

Examples:

  • Both of the mountain's theatres, SilverCity Ancaster on Golf Links Road and the SilverCity on Paramount Drive in Stoney Creek reside in rather inaccessible locations for those who do not own cars. Both theatres are located at either end of Stone Church Road. Yet Stone Church has very limited transit service as a route, especially later in the evening when most people go out to watch a movie.

  • The routes "51", "5C", or the "1", at any regular time of day, are suffering from overcapacity. These routes, while admittedly pretty regular, still aren't meeting the needs of the people who are using them. They're always packed.

I do not believe I am making a rash statement in saying that ridership is astoundingly high on these routes. It's a fact. The 2010 HSR Operational Review found that buses operating on these routes carry 13,000 passengers a day— and that statistic's going on three years old.

This high ridership is not a negative thing.

It's a great thing.

More transit on these routes means that more people are moving around our city more frequently, which in turn means more money spent around the city. Making it easier to get from Point A to Point B is not something that is going to have a negative effect on Hamilton's economy.

Even Mayor Bob Bratina acknowledges, and heralds, that it is a fact our economy would be significantly and positively impacted by an improvement in the level of public transit available. Yet it would seem, ever so confoundingly, that he is dead-set against LRT.

Bratina said that LRT is “not a priority” and wouldn’t be unless one million people move to Hamilton in the next five years.
The Hamilton Spectator.

High ridership on these routes brings the need for more transit capacity, but simply throwing more buses at this will not solve the problem, as illustrated by a McMaster research paper analyzing the health, environmental and economic impact of LRT in Hamilton:

The results of the research on light rail transit (LRT) and its possible benefits indicate overwhelming support for the economic, health, environmental and social benefits of LRT, especially when compared to other forms of transit, including rapid bus and local transit schemes.

View The Paper

So then it begs the question: why, given the identified needs, benefits and community desire for LRT, has Hamilton's Council adopted a stance that can most charitably be described as passive? I believe the answer is that it's because council is not in touch with the reality of Hamilton's needs and potential.

It goes without saying that our Councillors don't rely on our transit system in their own daily lives - but that's just one part of a much larger problem.

Take, for instance, the downtown casino debate: we have a mayor and quite a few Councillors who are giving this casino what seems to be infinitely more consideration than the pursuit of beneficial infrastructure that would improve the quality of lives of a large majority of the people living in Hamilton. It's a sad situation that screams of short-term vision.

Why are they not giving long-term consideration to this city's future? I don't believe it's enough to be able to say, *but look, we didn't raise your property taxes!

How about: *Look at how vigorously we've pursued improving the infrastructure of this city so as to improve the quality of life of all Hamiltonians, and in doing so pursued making Hamilton a destination of its own accord.

Hamilton is not just some mere hub for people to leave from towards Toronto.

So we should be up in arms that it seems our Council views it that way.

It says something when your city's own government thinks that making it easier for people to leave Hamilton to work elsewhere is more important than making this city itself the destination.

Is their aspiration for Hamilton really that of a "commuter city"? A city built on short-term, gimmicky developments full of people who would rather live elsewhere, but live here for its cost-efficiency?

This City Council has demonstrated too much passivity, a serious disconnect from the potential of this city, and a lack of long-term vision.

As a city, we need and deserve a lot better.

I can only hope that 2014 brings about a Council unafraid of progressive leadership. It's what our city needs now more than ever.

The original version of this was posted on Raise The Hammer, Feb. 12th, 2013. It has since been updated.