Cambridge mayor blasts planners for alleged bias

Tensions are growing ever higher in the Region of Waterloo’s debate over the future of rapid transit in the region. The October municipal election, during which politicians got an earful from residents, triggered the anger over the apparently large portion of the cost of a rapid transit system that the Region will be on the hook for.

It was expected that the provincial and federal governments would foot the majority of the cost of the system. For whatever reason, expectations were raised to this level somewhere along the way. (The “norm”, if there is one, for funding large infrastructure investments, is commitments of one-third from each level of government.) To expect that the Region could get a state-of-the-art rapid transit system for almost no cost to the local taxpayer was unreasonable in the first place.

In many ways, it is this unmet expectation of federal and provincial funds that brought on the debate the Region’s councillors and residents are now having. Local cost burden for the Kitchener-Waterloo LRT & Cambridge BRT is now estimated to be $235M, with property taxes to be increased over six years to pay the difference.

Cambridge mayor Doug Craig has become the most outspoken regional critic of the LRT + BRT scheme, saying it would shortchange taxpayers in his city, who would have to ride buses while those in Kitchener-Waterloo ride on modern trains. He, and voters, convinced regional council to reconsider a system of consisting entirely of buses in January. Planners presented a list of 10 options to the Planning and Works Committee on February 15, a list that consisted of one train-only option and one bus-only option, with the others being combined options. This list will now be subject to public consultation before the question of technology is put to council one more time.

LRT's capacity is a huge advantage

It would seem that the list is a fair account of the options before council and the Region, given that almost two years ago, the same council nearly unanimously approved the LRT + BRT scheme (exception being Mr. Craig). Yet Doug Craig and some other councillors do not see it that way. Commenting on the list, Mr. Craig said, “I expected this to be biased. I didn’t expect it to be over the top.” Other Cambridge councillors complained that the list was titled too much toward trains. In response, a councillor from Waterloo accused councillors from Cambridge as being affected by “Cinderella syndrome”, a false sense of being overlooked and neglected. Clearly, a formerly unified council and Region has become fragmented by differing visions of the future.

What disturbed me most as a not-quite-professional planner was the allegations of bias Mr. Craig made towards Regional planning staff. In comments he made after the meeting (rather than in it), Mr. Craig said:

“The whole report is awful… It is a sell job for LRT (light rail transit), plain and simple. And it’s embarrassing. They haven’t done it properly or without bias.”

My guess is he did not allege bias in his comments during the meeting because it would be much more serious if he did so. However, the comments are still of concern to the planners, as they attempt to take a fair and balanced approach to the issue.

The "biased" slide

That being said, Mr. Craig wondered aloud why planners chose to show an over-capacity Ottawa BRT system instead of empty LRT trains in Buffalo during the presentation. Perhaps he is right: planners should have let the facts speak for themselves rather than making the apples-to-oranges comparison of a dying, rustbelt city like Buffalo to a recession-proof government capital.

I have read the presentation, and apart from the pictures, it is mostly full of facts. BRT is a system that would only last for 20 years for the fast-growing region before it is clogging the roads with trains of buses, like Ottawa’s system. LRT costs more than BRT. LRT has a greater positive effect on property values, attracts more riders and employers, and has more benefits to the user. And perhaps most importantly, the number of existing or projected riders “south of Fairview Park Mall” (read: Cambridge) is far below that of Kitchener and Waterloo.

One could fault planners for trying to gussy up a presentation with photos. But one can hardly blame the planners for submitting a report that lays out the facts pretty clearly. Another fact that was in the planner’s report: Mr. Craig’s all-BRT option would cost only 15% less. For a system that would only last 20 years, selecting the all-bus option clearly sacrifices future budgetary concerns for short-term political and budgetary concerns. While Mr. Craig rejects LRT on the basis that it is unfair to Cambridge, clearly what is best for the long-term health of the Region is the proposed LRT + BRT.

You can see the slides the Region’s planners presented to the Planning and Works Committee here and the full report document here [both PDF].

Make a judgement of your own: is the report biased in favour of LRT?

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  1. Hey! This post could not be written any better! Reading through this post reminds me of my good old room mate!
    He always kept talking about this. I will forward this article to him.
    Pretty sure he will have a good read. Many thanks for sharing!

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