HSR transit boss to leave as LRT debate grows

News May 25, 2016 by Matthew Van Dongen The Hamilton Spectator

Hamilton is losing its top transit manager just as political debate heats up for a controversial $1-billion LRT project.

But Dave Dixon — who joined the HSR less than two years ago — insists he's not leaving over the increasingly fraught political conversation about Hamilton's rapid transit future.

"I had an unsolicited offer … I just decided to go in a different direction," said the HSR director, who will leave for an unspecified new job June 18.

Dixon said he didn't feel any "undue influence" from politicians on the light rail transit file, despite raucous council debate that has referenced his own opinion of the city's LRT readiness.

This month, council has twice put off a vote to accept 100 per cent provincial project funding for LRT, with some members even floating the idea of a referendum.

Provincial and federal politicians are now weighing in, with Hamilton native and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna tweeting support for LRT this weekend.

Hamilton MPP Ted McMeekin said in a CHML radio interview he believes a "mature" council will reaffirm support for LRT. But the municipal affairs minister also said: "I don't know how I could reasonably look my cabinet colleagues in the eye … if after all of what we've been through, the council in its infinite wisdom or folly turns down the light rail transit (project)."

In recent council debates, some members have cited Dixon when publicly questioning LRT ridership projections or whether the project would make buses available to improve transit elsewhere in the city.

Mayor Fred Eisenberger, who has pitched using buses displaced by LRT to improve Mountain service, said he believes the transit director's words have been "taken out of context" by project opponents.

"He has said, and I think we all agree, that ridership is not the major driver here. It is about rebuilding and the economic uplift that comes with the development of LRT."

The mayor said he was surprised by Dixon's decision to leave, but dismissed the notion clashes with politicians over transit had anything to do with it.

Dixon acknowledged he views the LRT project "from a purely transit-oriented perspective, a bit in advance of what's needed." But he added Hamilton's project was always envisioned as a "city-building" effort and "there are plenty of good arguments to make in that respect."

The mayor and city LRT point-person Paul Johnson both said Tuesday they're confident Dixon's departure won't affect an aggressive project schedule that aims to have a design-build contract signed by 2018.

Johnson called the departing director's contributions to date "invaluable," but added the city-Metrolinx team has no lack of design and engineering experience on LRT projects.

Dixon was hired in late 2014 and quickly put forward a 10-year transit strategy for the HSR that won plaudits for pitching concrete bus service improvements. But he also upset LRT supporters by recommending a $300-million bus cash request to the province that Eisenberger argued would compete with an existing LRT ask.

The province ultimately approved the LRT cash, but not money for buses and a new garage Dixon believed is crucial to building up and expanding HSR service.

Local HSR union head Eric Tuck said he sensed "frustration" from the HSR director at "council divisions" over transit spending. "Dave is an LRT supporter. But he believes in building the ridership to ensure LRT works and so far, council hasn't been willing to commit to doing that," he said.

Coun. Chad Collins, an LRT opponent, said Dixon was in a "tough spot" being asked to deliver on a project "with plenty of unanswered questions."

"I think those people who support LRT probably need more of a salesperson than a transit person, at this point," he said.

Council is supposed to consider a re-worded motion on LRT support at a June 15 meeting.

mvandongen@thespec.com

905-526-3241 | @Mattatthespec

HSR transit boss to leave as LRT debate grows

No ‘undue influence' from politicians, Dixon says of decision to take career ‘in a different direction'

News May 25, 2016 by Matthew Van Dongen The Hamilton Spectator

Hamilton is losing its top transit manager just as political debate heats up for a controversial $1-billion LRT project.

But Dave Dixon — who joined the HSR less than two years ago — insists he's not leaving over the increasingly fraught political conversation about Hamilton's rapid transit future.

"I had an unsolicited offer … I just decided to go in a different direction," said the HSR director, who will leave for an unspecified new job June 18.

Dixon said he didn't feel any "undue influence" from politicians on the light rail transit file, despite raucous council debate that has referenced his own opinion of the city's LRT readiness.

He has said, and I think we all agree, that ridership is not the major driver here.

Mayor Fred Eisenberger

This month, council has twice put off a vote to accept 100 per cent provincial project funding for LRT, with some members even floating the idea of a referendum.

Provincial and federal politicians are now weighing in, with Hamilton native and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna tweeting support for LRT this weekend.

Hamilton MPP Ted McMeekin said in a CHML radio interview he believes a "mature" council will reaffirm support for LRT. But the municipal affairs minister also said: "I don't know how I could reasonably look my cabinet colleagues in the eye … if after all of what we've been through, the council in its infinite wisdom or folly turns down the light rail transit (project)."

In recent council debates, some members have cited Dixon when publicly questioning LRT ridership projections or whether the project would make buses available to improve transit elsewhere in the city.

Mayor Fred Eisenberger, who has pitched using buses displaced by LRT to improve Mountain service, said he believes the transit director's words have been "taken out of context" by project opponents.

"He has said, and I think we all agree, that ridership is not the major driver here. It is about rebuilding and the economic uplift that comes with the development of LRT."

The mayor said he was surprised by Dixon's decision to leave, but dismissed the notion clashes with politicians over transit had anything to do with it.

Dixon acknowledged he views the LRT project "from a purely transit-oriented perspective, a bit in advance of what's needed." But he added Hamilton's project was always envisioned as a "city-building" effort and "there are plenty of good arguments to make in that respect."

The mayor and city LRT point-person Paul Johnson both said Tuesday they're confident Dixon's departure won't affect an aggressive project schedule that aims to have a design-build contract signed by 2018.

Johnson called the departing director's contributions to date "invaluable," but added the city-Metrolinx team has no lack of design and engineering experience on LRT projects.

Dixon was hired in late 2014 and quickly put forward a 10-year transit strategy for the HSR that won plaudits for pitching concrete bus service improvements. But he also upset LRT supporters by recommending a $300-million bus cash request to the province that Eisenberger argued would compete with an existing LRT ask.

The province ultimately approved the LRT cash, but not money for buses and a new garage Dixon believed is crucial to building up and expanding HSR service.

Local HSR union head Eric Tuck said he sensed "frustration" from the HSR director at "council divisions" over transit spending. "Dave is an LRT supporter. But he believes in building the ridership to ensure LRT works and so far, council hasn't been willing to commit to doing that," he said.

Coun. Chad Collins, an LRT opponent, said Dixon was in a "tough spot" being asked to deliver on a project "with plenty of unanswered questions."

"I think those people who support LRT probably need more of a salesperson than a transit person, at this point," he said.

Council is supposed to consider a re-worded motion on LRT support at a June 15 meeting.

mvandongen@thespec.com

905-526-3241 | @Mattatthespec

HSR transit boss to leave as LRT debate grows

No ‘undue influence' from politicians, Dixon says of decision to take career ‘in a different direction'

News May 25, 2016 by Matthew Van Dongen The Hamilton Spectator

Hamilton is losing its top transit manager just as political debate heats up for a controversial $1-billion LRT project.

But Dave Dixon — who joined the HSR less than two years ago — insists he's not leaving over the increasingly fraught political conversation about Hamilton's rapid transit future.

"I had an unsolicited offer … I just decided to go in a different direction," said the HSR director, who will leave for an unspecified new job June 18.

Dixon said he didn't feel any "undue influence" from politicians on the light rail transit file, despite raucous council debate that has referenced his own opinion of the city's LRT readiness.

He has said, and I think we all agree, that ridership is not the major driver here.

Mayor Fred Eisenberger

This month, council has twice put off a vote to accept 100 per cent provincial project funding for LRT, with some members even floating the idea of a referendum.

Provincial and federal politicians are now weighing in, with Hamilton native and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna tweeting support for LRT this weekend.

Hamilton MPP Ted McMeekin said in a CHML radio interview he believes a "mature" council will reaffirm support for LRT. But the municipal affairs minister also said: "I don't know how I could reasonably look my cabinet colleagues in the eye … if after all of what we've been through, the council in its infinite wisdom or folly turns down the light rail transit (project)."

In recent council debates, some members have cited Dixon when publicly questioning LRT ridership projections or whether the project would make buses available to improve transit elsewhere in the city.

Mayor Fred Eisenberger, who has pitched using buses displaced by LRT to improve Mountain service, said he believes the transit director's words have been "taken out of context" by project opponents.

"He has said, and I think we all agree, that ridership is not the major driver here. It is about rebuilding and the economic uplift that comes with the development of LRT."

The mayor said he was surprised by Dixon's decision to leave, but dismissed the notion clashes with politicians over transit had anything to do with it.

Dixon acknowledged he views the LRT project "from a purely transit-oriented perspective, a bit in advance of what's needed." But he added Hamilton's project was always envisioned as a "city-building" effort and "there are plenty of good arguments to make in that respect."

The mayor and city LRT point-person Paul Johnson both said Tuesday they're confident Dixon's departure won't affect an aggressive project schedule that aims to have a design-build contract signed by 2018.

Johnson called the departing director's contributions to date "invaluable," but added the city-Metrolinx team has no lack of design and engineering experience on LRT projects.

Dixon was hired in late 2014 and quickly put forward a 10-year transit strategy for the HSR that won plaudits for pitching concrete bus service improvements. But he also upset LRT supporters by recommending a $300-million bus cash request to the province that Eisenberger argued would compete with an existing LRT ask.

The province ultimately approved the LRT cash, but not money for buses and a new garage Dixon believed is crucial to building up and expanding HSR service.

Local HSR union head Eric Tuck said he sensed "frustration" from the HSR director at "council divisions" over transit spending. "Dave is an LRT supporter. But he believes in building the ridership to ensure LRT works and so far, council hasn't been willing to commit to doing that," he said.

Coun. Chad Collins, an LRT opponent, said Dixon was in a "tough spot" being asked to deliver on a project "with plenty of unanswered questions."

"I think those people who support LRT probably need more of a salesperson than a transit person, at this point," he said.

Council is supposed to consider a re-worded motion on LRT support at a June 15 meeting.

mvandongen@thespec.com

905-526-3241 | @Mattatthespec