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Hamilton LRT operations shouldn’t be privatized, say advocates, citing concerns over accessibility, delays | CBC News


The voices of advocates boomed outside of Hamilton city hall on a hot and humid Wednesday morning, as they urged council members to keep Hamilton’s upcoming light rail transit (LRT) system public.

“When you walk down the sidewalk, sidewalks don’t make a profit. You came through a public park, they don’t make a profit. So public transit should never look to make a profit,” said Anthony Marco, from Hamilton and District Labour Council.

He and speakers from other groups such as the Hamilton Transit Riders’ Union and the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) came together before a city LRT subcommittee meeting to make their case against the privatization of Hamilton’s new LRT system. 

Person watching speaker at podium in front of Hamilton city hall
After the press conference, a staff report presented at the subcommittee meeting laid out four possible ways to handle the operation and maintenance of the LRT. None include a fully publicly controlled transit system. (Prapti Bamaniya/CBC)

“Hamilton Street Railway [HSR] should be in charge of operations and maintenance, not Metrolinx,” said Eric Tuck with ATU Local 107 in Hamilton, which represents HSR employees such as city bus drivers.

The city signed an agreement with Metrolinx in 2021 to build the rail system. The $3.4-billion project will see 17 stops run along 14 kilometres between McMaster University and Eastgate, alternately on King and Main streets. 

Construction has yet to begin. 

“I want the LRT to be something that we can be proud of,” added Marco. 

A staff report presented at the subcommittee meeting laid out four possible ways to handle the operation and maintenance of the LRT. None include a fully publicly controlled transit system.

Staff said the next opportunity for community input on the LRT will be around the next subcommittee meeting on Sept. 25, when staff are expected to present next steps of the project.

“I have to say, I’m disappointed,” Karl Andrus of Hamilton Community Benefits Network told CBC Hamilton after the meeting. Andrus said he was hoping for more of a push from council members for a conversation with Metrolinx about reducing its control in operation and maintenance of the LRT. 

Advocate calls for council to be ‘accountable for accessible transport’

Suad Abukamla, a board member with Environment Hamilton, said she was worried that a private company might be less concerned about the carbon footprint related to construction of the project.

“Privatization won’t help the environment because sometimes to them, profit is of more value than the other aspects.”

With approximately 20 per cent of the city’s population self-reporting a disability, Sahra Soudi from the Disability Justice Network of Hamilton was concerned that with privatization of the service, some people might not have the same access.

“There aren’t very many forms as it is for disabled people to to take transit and to keep it accessible, not in terms of just physical access, but also talking about costs,” she said. 

“We want to make sure that our city council is accountable for accessible transport and so we should be making sure that we are keeping transit public.”

In an emailed statement to CBC Hamilton, Metrolinx said they are engaging with the city as they work to determine the best operating model for the Hamilton LRT.

“We will continue to collaborate with our city partners on all elements of the project’s development and implementation,” the company said.

Learn from other LRT examples: union rep

If the operation and maintenance of the LRT is run privately, Brian Connolly said he worried it could possibly go down a path similar to “trainwreck transit systems” in other parts of the province. 

Connolly, from ATU Local 113 in Toronto, pointed to the example of Ottawa’s LRT system, which has been down for 10 days due to wheel bearing failures and has been plagued with disruptions. The system is run as a public-private partnership, with a private company contracted for the maintenance.

The Eglinton Crosstown LRT project in Toronto has also seen delays and Connolly blamed a lack of accountability related to privatization. Metrolinx, which is overseeing the project, has raised concerns the private consortium building the transit line hasn’t offered a “credible plan” to complete it, according to confidential documents obtained exclusively by CBC Toronto.

Final project details to come: Metrolinx

Hamilton city council first considered an LRT in 2007. In 2015, the then-Liberal provincial government announced $1 billion to build the system. But in late 2019, the province — by then under Progressive Conservative leadership — cancelled the LRT, saying it would cost Hamilton taxpayers too much to operate.

The project got back on track in May of 2021 with the province and the federal government each committing $1.7 billion. 

Metrolinx said in 2022 it was still in the early stages of Hamilton LRT delivery.

On Wednesday, Metrolinx said final details regarding operations, models, and service levels would become available as work progresses on the project. 

Major construction was planned to start in 2024 but it is unclear if deadlines have been extended.


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