A recent decision by Hamilton city council to ask Metrolinx to revamp its proposed procurement model for the city’s proposed light rail transit (LRT) to permit local operation and maintenance of the system has raised concerns the start of the project could be delayed past its proposed 2019 target.
The recommendation, approved Aug. 18, was initiated by ward 3 councillor Matthew Green and described by him as a "request" rather than an ultimatum.
He explained in an interview that maintaining local public control of the operations of the $1-billion, 14-kilometre LRT line through the Hamilton Street Railway and enshrining community benefits conditions in the procurement document before the main contract was awarded would help ensure good-paying jobs stay in Hamilton and "equity-seeking" groups are acknowledged.
Metrolinx's request for qualifications (RFQ) for the project closed in the spring. Unless Metrolinx revises its timetable, the next step is to ask qualified teams to respond to a request for proposals this summer, with the winning consortium to be selected to design, build, finance, operate and maintain the system next spring.
Construction would start in 2019 with proposed completion by 2024.
Councillor Aidan Johnson was one of two councillors who voted against Green's motion, with a media report of the meeting indicating he said he feared "death by delay."
Andrew Hope, Metrolinx's director of the Hamilton LRT, was also quoted as saying the process could be delayed if Metrolinx were to revisit its RFQ.
"When they tell me wait for the procurement phase to have the conversation, and then they say you're too late, I think they are not operating in good faith." Matthew Green, Ward 3 Councillor
Metrolinx issued several clarifications of its position in emailed statements to the Daily Commercial News following the Hamilton council meeting.
A note from Anne Marie Aikins, senior manager of media relations for Metrolinx, stated, "Given we are at a very sensitive stage in this discussion, it would be unwise for us to speculate as to what might happen. Metrolinx will need to carefully consider the implications and discuss the matter with the province as to next steps. We are interested in ensuring the project continues to progress and remains on schedule for major construction in 2019."
A few days later, Aikins sent another message indicating, "The Hamilton LRT project will be delivered using a design-build-finance-operate-maintain procurement model. This means the consortium responsible for designing and building the project will also be responsible for operating and maintaining it for a set period of time...To be clear, the project will remain publicly owned by Metrolinx once complete and the consortium will operate it on our behalf."
The note indicated that other transit systems are operated by third parties and that the Waterloo LRT and the Hurontario LRT will have a similar delivery model.
Further asked if Metrolinx had definitely rejected Hamilton's request, Metrolinx stated, "In light of the motion approved by council, Metrolinx and the province will consider what implications this has on the procurement process currently underway."
A Region of Waterloo spokesperson indicated the private consortium GrandLinq will operate the ION LRT system and Waterloo's public Grand River Transit authority will own the system, set fares and frequency of the service, collect fares and monitor the performance of GrandLinq.
Green said Hamilton citizens demand a high standard of public protection of its assets. He said there should be contractual language to prevent a private consortium from hiring low-cost trades workers in the event of a labour shortage as southern Ontario's construction sector continues to operate at full capacity. He said he and others have attempted to nail down Metrolinx on job guarantees and community benefits for a year-and-a-half but the agency has resisted his demands.
"This is Hamilton, Ontario, we are the home of 1005, the ATU (Amalgamated Transit Union) has been there since the 1900s, we are a union town, and nobody understands the effect of neoliberalism better than this city," he said.
"So when they tell me wait for the procurement phase to have the conversation, and then they say you're too late, I think they are not operating in good faith."
But, he said, "I am not going to rattle the saber and say this is going to kill the deal.
"I still support the project. There are all the other jobs, the construction jobs, I am not going to put that at jeopardy. But that doesn't mean I am going to shut up and go away. I will dog them at every step and one way or another this will be a provincial issue."
A critical issue to be resolved, he said, would be the split of fares and how much revenue comes back to public transit.
Green said revamping the RFQ document was manageable and would not significantly delay the start of construction.