I recently attended a meeting of the Strategy and Policy Committee of Hamilton City Council to make a delegation on the 2015 budget. My specific interest was the enhancement of transit infrastructure in the city. Here is what I said:
Thank you for allowing me this opportunity to address Council about the budget for 2015. I will state up front that I am here in defence and promotion of public transit and will try to keep my comments relevant to budgetary issues. But I am passionate about public transit, although not a regular user. I prefer the bicycle. Yes, even in this weather, but I have a relatively short commute.
At the outset, let me clarify a few things. I live in Ward 13, known to us locals as Dundas, and have for 17 years. I am employed. Gainfully. I am a secondary school teacher, which I believe even qualifies me as a professional. I have children. Two, in fact. I apologize to those who might be confused by the fact I don’t fit the profile of the average “bus nut”.
I firmly believe that the state of public transit is a barometer for how we are as a city. There are many who feel as I do, that we need a viable system of public transit as we aim to reach our mission as the best city in Canada to raise a child, promote innovation, engage citizens and provide diverse economic activities. Our system, as it stands, is reasonable. Yes, reasonable is the best adjective I can conjure to describe the Hamilton Street Railway. Indeed, there is room - nay an imperative for improvement to public transit in our city. We are fortunate to have a blueprint for transit in the form of the 10 year plan. Whether it’s enhanced rapid transit corridors, new busses, or working with Metrolinx and the province towards Light Rail Transit, the time to invest is now.
Esteemed councillors, transit matters. It matters not only for those who have no choice but to take the bus, as a function of economic reality, but also in the creation of a vibrant and sustainable city. Because we are falling behind in Hamilton. Car travel is still seen as the default option for getting to work and getting around the city. This in a world where finite resources are a reality and climate change constantly looms.
I see this every day as I make my daily 4 kilometer bicycle commute westbound up Governor’s Road in Dundas. In the opposite direction is a mass of traffic, most of which is comprised of single occupant vehicles. Up close, I taste first hand the fumes of a city crying out for better transit. Because there are alternatives.
And make no mistake, Council, there is a need for transit even in Dundas. If our Councillor would take up the challenge and ride transit to City Hall for even a week, she would see that the morning busses are packed. Packed with people heading to jobs in the core. Packed with students heading out of Dundas towards programs of choice in high schools across the city. Packed with people making a difference in choosing a mode of transport other than the private vehicle.
But transit remains an essential, even life or death reality for many people right across the region, and not just to a few urbanites in the lower city. We have an aging population that needs to access medical appointments. We have those students who school boards on increasingly limited budgets are insisting take public transit if they want equitable access to programs of choice, such as French immersion. We have people with disabilities for whom DARTS isn’t always the most available or even the best alternative.
And, yet, public transit in Hamilton, in particular, suffers from a stigma. At what point did using public transit become déclassé? It is a way of getting around in not only larger cities like Toronto and Vancouver, where gridlock is ever present, but cities similar in size to Hamilton. As an example, we are light years behind Ottawa, where light rail transit has been present for a decade and is being expanded as we speak. Why is there the perception that transit is for poorer, lower class people in the lower, urban part of the city?
And at what point did public transit become unsafe for young people? Why do parents go so far as to forbid their adolescent children from traveling to parts of our great city using public transit? This is completely foreign to my own experience growing up in Stoney Creek, where the King 1 and, later, the Beeline, became my lifelines to the public golf course at the other end of the city, the athletic facilities where I trained at McMaster University and even the now-extinct downtown movie theatres.
This is a backward vision for a city that fashions itself as ambitious. A failure to invest in transit infrastructure is the opposite of a city that is the best place in Canada to raise a child, promote innovation, engage citizens and provide diverse economic activities. Friends, please embrace the 10 year plan, starting with the 2015 budget year! Enthusiastically seize every opportunity that the province and Metrolinx provide for modernizing public transit in Hamilton. Be the agents of progress that commuters in this city so desperately need and richly deserve.
Members of Council, thank you for the opportunity of hijacking the budget process - for five minutes at least.