Without the moral authority to do so, regional council has now locked residents into its ill-considered LRT scheme. The spike was driven through the heart of the public good Wednesday night when councillors signed on to a $1.9-billion contract for only a portion of an unneeded rail link between two K-W malls.
It’s unfortunate that a legal challenge that could have halted or at least delayed the project, allowing for a reversal, was derailed. Ideally, citizens would have had the opportunity to decide via a referendum. At the very least, they would have had another municipal election to voice their concerns, though voters were misled during the last trip to the polls.
It seems now that the only recourse is for residents to wait until October 27 to eject every member of council who voted in favour of the project. It may be small consolation for the years of fiscal pain ahead, but it would send a message about the importance of real democracy.
Leading up to Wednesday’s vote, Cambridge Mayor Doug Craig made the case for excluding his city from paying any of the costs associated with the LRT. Just as none of the four rural townships benefits from the train, Cambridge residents stand to gain nothing. Unlike those in the townships, they’re on the hook for what is still billed as an $818-million project, huge ancillary expenses such as this week’s council decision to the contrary.
On purely practical grounds, Cambridge has a good argument to leave the costs strictly to residents of Kitchener and Waterloo. Doing so could actually scuttle the scheme, to everyone’s benefit – the already unjustifiable costs would become untenable.
Given the inevitable failure of what’s optimistically dubbed phase one, Craig points out that it’s very unlikely the train will ever be extended to his city, where it’s not wanted anyway. Thus the promise of pay now, ride later holds little sway: Cambridge residents will indeed pay now, but only get taken for a ride.
As expected, Craig’s call for fairness was dismissed by most regional councillors, who voted to continue the project over public opposition and without any protection for citizens or penalties for the inevitable failure.
Make no mistake, even as optimistically forecasted, the rapid-transit plan will cost taxpayers, most of whom will never use it, large sums of money every year.
Even as the LRT debate raged on, the Premier Kathleen Wynne was in the region making an election-style announcement about the GO Train. The upgrades proposed, with few details, appear to be half-measures. But it’s on this link between Kitchener and Toronto that investment would be worthwhile. A high-speed rail link would do far more to get people out of their cars than a train taking the milk run between two shopping malls in K-W.
A cheap and fast train to Toronto would take many commuters off the roads, particularly the 401. It would also encourage more people to use transit, which is often shunned because it’s slow, inconvenient and costly. With the right incentive – fast and inexpensive – more people might be willing to become accustomed to public transit. At that point, they may even opt to use Grand River Transit to connect to the fast trains. A bit of a gamble, but far less so than the risk the region is prepared to take with piles of your money. The LRT should have been dismissed immediately, any money available from the province and feds put toward such a project.
But doing what’s smart and what’s right is asking too much of politicians.