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Union boss concerned over potential ‘sacrifice’ of Hamilton buses and operators to cover LRT costs

No decision has been made yet as to whether the city will accept $3.4 billion in federal and provincial funding to build a 14-kilometre light rail transit (LRT) line from McMaster University to Eastgate Square. City of Hamilton

The president of the union that represents Hamilton’s transit workers says the potential sacrificing of a number of HSR buses and operators to pay for maintenance of the city’s proposed $3.4-billion LRT is a “cause for concern.”

Eric Tuck, president of Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 107, suggests looking at an option to mothball 18 b-line buses and approximately 30 operators to help cover annual costs “demonstrates a true lack of understanding” on building “higher transit” in Hamilton.

“The direction to staff is completely irresponsible and cause for serious concern as we cannot sacrifice HSR to pay for LRT,” Tuck said.

Read more: Divided city council leaves uncertain fate for Hamilton LRT

Tuck suggests the buses will still be needed to “augment” the city’s future rapid transit plans to improve ride times, generate ridership and spur development.

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“Failure to build the feeder routes and passenger base will result in a failed LRT, it is that simple,” said Tuck.

The release of the statement comes a week after Ancaster Coun. Lloyd Ferguson queried city staff on narrowing down the operating costs and potential savings to mitigate the annual expenditure before signing off on a memorandum of understanding (MOU).

During last week’s general issues committee meeting, Ferguson asked finance staff to deliver a report for June 16 outlining how retiring buses on the east-west corridor and eliminating incentive programs encouraging downtown investment could possibly free up all the money needed to alleviate a potential annual bill of $20 million to run the LRT.

Ferguson’s understanding was the suggested annual costs could be split between 50 per cent of fare box revenue from the new line and annual savings by no longer running b-line buses, which would be replaced by the LRT route.

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“If all those savings are added up, does that mean we can get this system with no additional operations and maintenance costs?” asked Ferguson. “I will not support directing an MOU to be prepared between Metrolinx and the city until I know the answers to these questions.”

Read more: Mayor’s motion seeks to move Hamilton’s LRT project forward

Ferguson told Global News his concerns are over the net operating costs which he says are still unclear.

“There’s an exemption for 50 per cent of development charges, but there’s also the tax break for first 10 years where they go up by 10 percent per year rather than once it’s opened up at the proper tax rate,” Ferguson said.

“So I need all that information. Is the net operating cost $5 million, 12 million? I don’t know. That’s what I’m looking for.”

Ferguson says Tuck’s statement suggests the city should be “investing twice” to advance further bus lines.

The councillor says that’s something being looked at as the city goes through a reinvigorating process on what should be added or deleted.

“That has been underway for about a year now, and long before LRT was announced,” said Ferguson

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Read more: Mayor’s motion seeks to move Hamilton’s LRT project forward

“We’ll deal with that when that report comes to us. But it’s totally outside the approval of the MOU for the LRT.”

No decision has been made yet as to whether the city will accept $3.4 billion in federal and provincial funding to build a 14-kilometre light rail transit (LRT) line from McMaster University to Eastgate Square.

City councillors were expected to vote on a motion last Wednesday that would direct staff to work with Metrolinx and the province on a memorandum of understanding for the project.

Instead, members of the general issues committee deferred Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger’s motion until June 16, when they hope to know more about the financial impact of day-to-day operating and maintenance costs.

Overall, an HSR connection to the possible operation of an LRT system in Hamilton has not yet been determined.

 

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