Councillors back union appeal for HSR to run LRT
Metrolinx official says city push could delay project; others worry it might derail LRT
City councillors are backing HSR transit workers in their push to operate and maintain the proposed new provincial Light Rapid Transit line in Hamilton.
Councillors at Wednesday’s general issues committee (GIC) voted 9 to 4 to ask Metrolinx to put the Hamilton Street Railway in charge of those two aspects. (The vote goes to council for formal approval on August 18.)
Without this request, the agreement would see Metrolinx choose a third party to design, build — and operate and maintain the LRT.
Metrolinx project lead Andrew Hope said afterwards, however, that the GIC vote will probably delay the LRT “a few months at least” but also that the length of delay will have to be assessed once the province responds.
The GIC vote was a victory for HSR drivers, maintenance workers and administrative staff, their Automated Transit Union Local 107 — and the 5,000 riders the union says signed a petition in support.
About 150 of the 700 ATU members showed up at 8 a.m. at City Hall for a ‘Keep Transit Public’ rally before attending the GIC meeting. Local 107 president Eric Tuck afterwards praised the councillors for “ensuring transit workers have jobs for the future” and for keeping the LRT operation public rather than privatized.
But the GIC vote was far from unanimous after concerns were raised this could delay the LRT project or even derail it entirely.
“By supporting this motion, we are taking a risk that if another (provincial political) party is elected and changes course, it could cancel this (LRT),” said
Coun. Lloyd Ferguson.
“I think we’re opening a huge can of worms. Is there a possibility the province could pull back on the project?”
Hope, at the meeting for Metrolinx, responded “I won’t say how the province will react,” adding “It would be a departure from other LRT projects in the province.”
The GIC heard, however, that the transit systems in Toronto and Ottawa operate the LRTs in their cities, although they don’t do the maintenance.
Eliminating maintenance appealed to Mayor Fred Eisenberger and Coun. Judi Partridge.
“I’m worried about the maintenance because we’re not the designer and builder,” Eisenberger said. He pointed out that the city is responsible for maintenance of the stadium although it was designed and built by a third party (Infrastructure Ontario) which dumped a host of structural problems in the city’s lap.
Partridge added “the maintenance part (of LRT) could be a huge cost to us”.
Eisenberger introduced an amendment to remove maintenance from the motion, but it was defeated.
He hoped the motion to have HSR operate and maintain the LRT was not being used to derail or delay the LRT even more than it already has been, he said.
Other councillors were very supportive of the motion.
Coun. Matthew Green, who brought the motion, said the City is still in the negotiations phase with Metrolinx and the memorandum of agreement has language that allows the City to make the argument that HSR should operate and maintain it.
“I don’t buy the fear and gloom that this is going to take it off track,” he said.
The operators of the LRT deserve great paying jobs and benefits, but he wasn’t clear that would be the case if a private company ran the LRT, he added.
At the rally earlier, he told the crowd “I put my name on the good jobs and careers it would bring to the city … There is a resounding support that we need to … keep transit public.”
Hamilton District Labour Council president Anthony Marco said the LRT is an opportunity to also bring good jobs with union wages to Hamilton.
He said it was time to send Premier Kathleen Wynne a message that Hamilton wants the LRT investment, but also wants good jobs — and not the precarious, low wage ones that are becoming so common in the province.
Members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 107 at a Keep Transit Public rally at Hamilton City Hall Wednesday morning.
Hamilton City Councillor Matthew Green speaks at a Keep Transit Public rally hosted by the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 107 at Hamilton City Hall before entering council chambers for a committee meeting on Wednesday. He backed the ATU appeal and put forward a motion.