The City's LRT plan has $1 billion in provincial funding. Tell Council to take YES for an answer.

Spectator Editorial: All Aboard LRT Opportunity

In Hamilton, light rail has the potential to transform neighbourhoods and revitalize commercial areas.

By Robert Howard

This editorial was published in the Hamilton Spectator on Tuesday, June 24, 2008.

Lyle Lanley: Well, sir, there's nothing on earth / Like a genuine, / Bona fide,/ Electrified,/ Six-car/ Monorail! /... I swear it's Springfield's only choice ...

Marge: But Main Street's still all cracked and broken ...

Bart: Sorry, Mom, the mob has spoken!

-- The Monorail Song, from Marge vs. The Monorail, The Simpsons, 1993

We can't resist having a little fun with a classic episode of animated satire. But in truth, there's nothing flim-flam about the opportunity for modern, efficient, quick transit to come to Hamilton.

The acronym is LRT, and we'll all be hearing it a lot. It stands for light rail transit, and it has a lot of people -- citizens, city staff and council members -- excited.

So it should. A local LRT system -- small trains moving on rails across the lower city and up the escarpment from downtown, with the possibility of its connecting the airport -- could be transformative for Hamilton.

Light rail is attractive because it's the most environmentally friendly form of mass transit. It's quiet, smooth, fast and tends to attract many passengers who won't take buses.

It has had a real impact in other cities.

In Calgary, ridership on its LRT system has doubled in the past 10 years -- and that was before the cost of gas soared this year.

In Portland, Ore., 34 million people rode the light rail system in 2007 and, since it was built, there has been $6 billion in development within walking distance of the LRT stations.

In Minneapolis, ridership increased by more than a million people from 2005 to 2007. Eighty per cent of riders have cars at home.

In Hamilton, light rail has the potential to transform neighbourhoods and revitalize commercial areas.

The window of opportunity is this: The McGuinty government has pledged $17.5 billion over the next 12 years to transit improvements across Hamilton and the Greater Toronto Area.

City of Hamilton officials say they have been told by Metrolinx -- the body (headed by former Burlington mayor Rob MacIsaac) in charge of administering the provincial plan -- to "dream big."

Council must do the same. Citizens have made it clear they favour light rail over bus transit -- 71 per cent to 4 per cent.

Public support is there. Provincial money, and apparent encouragement to apply for it, is on the table in a way it may never be again.

Of course there are questions to be answered, due diligence to be taken care of, taxpayers to be protected.

But sometimes, you have to strike while the iron is hot. Carpe diem.