Councillor Wilson’s recent article in the Hamilton Spectator uses nuanced language offering misleading information to justify the B-Line LRT. She explains that the B-Line route is the busiest in the city which is true but phrasing this as “9 million trips per year” sounds more impressive than it really is. When you break this number down, a different story emerges. Transit experts agree that a passenger load of at least 2000 people at peak hour is recommended to justify a higher order of transit such as LRT. Currently, in Hamilton, we are sitting at 444 passengers at peak hour in peak direction along the B-Line corridor. Councillor Wilson does not address that ridership is the measurement used to justify the economics of an LRT system, not trips per year. Our own consultants have indicated our ridership might increase to approximately 1500 passengers at peak hour in peak direction by 2031 but currently, we do not have the ridership to justify LRT.
Later in her column, the good Councillor states that electric vehicles lose 60% efficiency travelling up the escarpment. In the famous words of Isaac Newtown “what goes up must come down” and Councillor Wilson does not talk about the power E-buses generate and store from travelling downhill. These batteries are replenished creating greater efficiencies. This seems to be a point that was conveniently left out.
The evolution of technology as it pertains to superconductors and battery recharge is improving dramatically from year to year. First generation Tesla’s used to take hours to recharge and now only takes 20 minutes on a supercharge. I’m not sure why Councillor Wilson is stating anyone would need to charge a battery overnight, this is simply not true. Overall, a flash electric bus coupled with fast charging DC technology would not require overnight charging. The testimony to the success of electric cars is that there are more than a million electric cars on the road in the US today. It is expected that by 2040 all new cars will be electric.
It is also comical that the same Councillor who endorsed the climate change emergency resolution at Council does not want to talk about electrifying our public transit system and how this would significantly lower our carbon footprint; far greater than a 3.5-billion-dollar LRT system along just one corridor. The comparison Councillor Wilson makes on the use of the road system with electric buses and the carbon footprint of asphalt is Ludacris. The reality is, those roads serve much more than just the transit system; they serve commerce, emergency vehicles, local traffic and other community services. We will never get away from building or resurfacing local, secondary or arterial roads, period.
One does not have to look far to see significant development of high-rise condos without any LRT. Look at all the high-rise condos that have been built along Plains Road, this all happened in absence of LRT. What is most important is to have a comprehensive public transit system. To suggest that LRT is the panacea for economic development is misleading to our community.
The Canadian Urban Institute indicated that after all buildout there would only be a 1% increase in tax revenue for the city. This represents approximately $8.8 million dollars in revenue for a 3.5-billion-dollar investment. Moreover, this number included the Scott Park Precinct as tax revenue generating lands which we now know are not. These lands are occupied by non- tax generating institutional properties, so the revenue is actually less than $8.8 million.
Jenny Schuetz of the US federal Reserve produced a report that looked at LRT systems throughout the USA from an economic development point of view. Her conclusions are that there is no net economic uplift to the communities that introduce LRT. The findings strongly suggest there may be some shifting where development goes but it doesn’t result in a net gain.
The reality is, development around hard rail systems like GO transit is far greater than development along light rail systems. In fact, when I talked to Jenny Schuetz directly, she said there is a marginal difference in economic development activities between BRT and LRT and at least with BRT you don’t need a rail to have a dedicated lane.
The question really comes down to how do we spend the provincial funding that best serves the residents of the WHOLE city as opposed to one geographic corridor? A corridor that doesn’t have a business case or the ridership and would cost over 3 billion dollars to build. Anyone with common sense would come to the same conclusion; it’s time to look at the best way to serve this community and provide the greatest level of positive impact for the greatest number.