Coun. Green pushes for new LRT deal for HSR

Could it stoke di­vi­sive de­bate again?

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - AN­DREW DRESCHEL

Af­ter a cou­ple of months of smooth sail­ing, Hamil­ton’s LRT project is sud­denly back in un­cer­tain wa­ters.

Coun. Matthew Green is propos­ing that the light rail sys­tem should be run by the HSR — the city-owned tran­sit ser­vice — in­stead of a pri­vate com­pany.

Green wants coun­cil­lors to ask Metrolinx to en­sure that HSR is iden­ti­fied as the op­er­a­tor and main­tainer of the $1-bil­lion provin­cially funded LRT sys­tem in a yet-to-be-signed fi­nal op­er­at­ing agree­ment.

In essence, that would mean re­open­ing the mem­o­ran­dum of agree­ment the city signed with Metrolinx, which spells out the roles and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of both par­ties, in­clud­ing the com­pet­i­tive bid­ding process for hir­ing a pri­vate con­sor­tium to de­sign, build, op­er­ate and main­tain the LRT sys­tem.

Green, who’ll bring for­ward his mo­tion July 10, says the in­tent is to dis­cuss other op­er­at­ing op­tions be­fore it’s too late and to show sup­port for Amal­ga­mated Tran­sit Unit (ATU) Lo­cal 107, whose mem­bers op­er­ate HSR buses.

“Public tran­sit is a public ser­vice and Metrolinx’s cur­rent process only pro­vides for bids in a pri­va­tized sys­tem,” Green said in a re­lease.

“With this mo­tion I’m look­ing to in­clude op­tions that our public sys­tem stays public for ev­ery­one.”

But Coun. Sam Merulla fears the mo­tion will re­open the LRT de­bate, po­ten­tially jeop­ar­diz­ing time­lines and even the project it­self.

“Pok­ing the bear at this point is not in any­one’s best in­ter­est ex­cept for those op­posed to the project,” Merulla said.

“We’re at the 11th hour; we’re im­mi­nently away from the re­quest for pro­pos­als be­ing is­sued; this is not the time or place to jeop­ar­dize what we’ve ac­com­plished to date.”

Metrolinx has al­ready is­sued a re­quest for qual­i­fi­ca­tions for pri­vate bidders to build and op­er­ate the sys­tem and ex­pects to go to mar­ket with for­mal re­quests for pro­pos­als later this sum­mer.

The pro­vin­cial tran­sit agency ar­gues pri­vate op­er­a­tors are bet­ter equipped to run light rail sys­tems in cities with no pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence op­er­at­ing rail lines. Ob­vi­ously HSR — Hamil­ton Street Rail­ways — used to be in that po­si­tion but not for decades.

Green’s mo­tion dove­tails with a cam­paign by ATU Lo­cal 107 to “keep tran­sit public’ and pro­vin­cial NDP leader An­drea Hor­wath’s sup­port for putting HSR in charge of the sys­tem.

The mo­tion also comes barely two months af­ter coun­cil voted 10-5 to stay the course with the project af­ter a nick-of-time pro­vin­cial agree­ment to ex­tend the line from McMaster Uni­ver­sity all the way to East­gate Square in­stead of the Queen­ston traf­fic cir­cle.

Merulla says he’ll back Green’s mo­tion if it’s a “sym­bolic ges­ture” to show sup­port for the HSR union, but if it’s a se­ri­ous at­tempt to re­open ne­go­ti­a­tions with Metrolinx and the prov­ince, he sees it as “non-starter.”

“I need clar­ity on this. I will be ask­ing for it to be tabled for a staff re­port. I need to un­der­stand the im­pli­ca­tions of sup­port­ing it.”

Mayor Fred Eisen­berger could not be reached. But Paul John­son, the city’s LRT project co-or­di­na­tor, says staff will be lis­ten­ing very care­fully to the de­bate.

“If we do end up hav­ing to speak to Metrolinx about this, I know they’ll want to be very clear what our po­si­tion is.” No kid­ding. As John­son notes, the rules of en­gage­ment in­di­cat­ing the project was go­ing to be funded by the prov­ince but de­signed, built, op­er­ated and main­tained by pri­vate in­ter­ests was laid out at the be­gin­ning of the process, in­clud­ing in the March, 2016, mem­o­ran­dum of agree­ment be­tween Metrolinx and the city.

Surely it’s kind of late in the game to re­open dis­cus­sions with Metrolinx and the prov­ince.

John­son also notes that coun­cil has al­ready strongly sig­nalled that they want staff and Metrolinx to ex­plore ways that ATU mem­bers can be in­volved in the daily op­er­a­tions of the LRT sys­tem.

“We’ve al­ready started that work as a re­sult of our con­ver­sa­tion with com­mit­tee and coun­cil pre­vi­ously, and that work con­tin­ues as well,” John­son said.

In other words, coun­cil is al­ready push­ing to keep LRT jobs in the hands of ATU mem­bers.

But Green’s mo­tion seems to go well be­yond try­ing to pro­tect work­ers.

If, as it ap­pears, it’s about the city of Hamil­ton op­er­at­ing and main­tain­ing the LRT sys­tem through its tran­sit di­vi­sion, that’s a whole new con­ver­sa­tion.

If passed by coun­cil, it would not only de­lay the project im­mea­sur­ably, it could ex­pose the city to se­ri­ous fi­nan­cial risk if Metrolinx and the prov­ince for some rea­son went along with it.

Merulla ar­gues that be­cause coun­cil has al­ready ap­proved the mem­o­ran­dum of agree­ment, the mo­tion would be a re­con­sid­er­a­tion, which would re­quire a two-thirds ma­jor­ity to pass.

If it does, Green sug­gests this will be an op­por­tu­nity for all those coun­cil­lors who say they sup­port tran­sit, HSR and the ATU to show their “faith and be­lief.”

Of course, it might also be a per­fect chance for hold­out crit­ics to put a spoke in the project’s wheels.

Matthew Green

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.