TriTAG statement to Regional Council, 19 January 2011

Chair Seiling, Members of Council,

Light Rail Transit was never chosen because it had a lower capital cost than a bus-based solution. The project was chosen because it requires fewer wages to operate than buses, and because the rails it runs on attract private-sector investment. Why would Council, which voted in favour of this project on its merits alone in 2009, vote to reconsider? Has Council not done its due diligence? Or, was the value of the project, and its sister project, the Regional Transportation Master Plan, not properly explained to citizens?

The Region still has not released a map explaining LRT’s express feeder buses as laid out in the RTMP. The Region has not visually communicated  to suburban homeowners what traffic will look like in their neighbourhood if we are forced to accept a more distributed growth model. The Region has held public information centres on its plans, but  most residents haven’t actually attended one, and shouldn’t be expected  to do so in order to be properly informed.

Today you have the ability to correct this mistake. Instead of spending more staff time to get the same answer you got a year and a half ago, please – invest in communicating with your taxpayers. The City of Hamilton, for example, sent detailed, easy to understand information  about their LRT proposal to every single household, as well as publishing it as an insert in The Globe And Mail. Here in the Region, instead of thorough, honest communication from our government, we got, through the media, some incomplete math homework and opinion masquerading as journalism. Why not, through a direct mailing or information campaign of similar scope, put the actual facts of this proposal to your stakeholders?

Light Rail is being considered not in a vacuum, but in the context of where to direct growth in our Region. The province has already approved key elements of the new Regional Official Plan, which include nearly half of all growth taking place as urban infill along the Central Transit Corridor. Demographics and technology are changing; more than ever, people want to live and work in the cores. But more than that, we can’t afford to keep adding and maintaining the new roads, new sewer lines, new hydro service, and new water mains that growing outward demands. LRT is about helping guide the growth to where it uses existing services. Instead of having the Region’s productivity and mobility gridlocked within the next two decades, we need to invest now in the technology that will most affordably scale upward with growth: Light Rail Transit.

A lot of opposition to Light Rail (sometimes in the guise of “support” for BRT) comes from people who do not use transit, and because they pay some tax on fuel, see roads as relatively “free.” If a bus highway through our Region’s core neighbourhoods were chosen instead of Light Rail, many of these same people would start crying foul and calling for removal of its dedicated lanes. So it is at this point I ask: Where would they be without massive road subsidies from local taxpayers? If what Andrew Coyne suggests in this week’s Maclean’s magazine about traffic and the impacts of user-pay road pricing is correct, these people would likely be on transit themselves. The status quo approach to road expansion  represents a massive entitlement to motorists, of which most Regional taxpayers are not properly aware.

The idea that a substantial tax rate increase will come as a result of LRT ignores the precedent-setting permission York Region received in 2006 to apply development charges to transit expansion, and it ignores the possibility of a fare increase that could easily be applied after the introduction of LRT’s superior service. The idea that the beneficiaries of this system shouldn’t help pay for its improvements is absurd, but immediately assuming the property tax base is the only group that could bear the burden is even more so. People will pay more for a better option.

It has always been TriTAG’s belief that Cambridge should get light rail. Due to the river and highway crossing, it’s not a realistic option in Phase 1, but we believe it is wrong for Cambridge to have to wait until after 2031 to see development benefits. Moreover, we are confident that the first phase of LRT will be very successful, far beyond the conservative estimates used in the models. So, instead of keeping Cambridge in the cold, or holding Kitchener and Waterloo back to wait for Cambridge to catch up, let’s give them a challenge: publically set a ridership target for building LRT in the Cambridge corridor, and then work with the citizens of this Region to exceed that target as soon as possible.

Finally, a couple of weeks ago, The Economist magazine published articles (1, 2) about how public-sector wages are going to be the biggest pressure on government budgets in the 21st century. As a Workforce Analyst in the private sector, I view choosing to build a Light Rail system now, that will forgo escalating labour costs in the long-term, as a fiscally responsible choice. I do not view Bus Rapid Transit, with its higher labour costs and eventual need for replacement, as a fiscally responsible choice. The taxpayers of the baby boom generation may have protested with their lungs, but the taxpayer of the 21st century will, silently, vote with their feet.

Thank you.