Special Report: Transit

Neglected Transit: Time to Bring Hamilton's Unloved Stepchild Back into the Fold

Why does our strategic plan to double transit ridership by 2025 never, ever translate into policy decisions that move us incrementally toward that goal?

By Ryan McGreal
Published October 27, 2009

Does it really need to be stated again? Hamilton desperately needs more and better transit. Hamilton needs more money for transit. Hamilton needs transit ridership at least double today's rate and preferably higher still. It's in Vision 2020. It's in GRIDS. It's in the Transportation Master Plan. It's in every major strategic document passed by Council in the past several years.

We need more transit, and we need more money for transit. Council agrees. City staff agree. Residents agree. Environmental groups agree. Social justice groups agree. The Chamber of Commerce agrees. I mean, really, there is about as broad a consensus as it's possible to get in politics that transit is good and more of it is better.

We know that transit is a critical investment in urban infrastructure and a key part of what makes cities centres of innovation and generators of wealth. Every great city on earth has high quality, high order transit, which helps bring large numbers of people into close proximity, leverages economies of density and scale, and maximizes the productivity of urban physical infrastructure.

So why is transit in Hamilton starved for funding, year after year after year? Why does our strategic plan to double transit ridership by 2025 never, ever translate into policy decisions that move us incrementally toward that goal?

Decades of Bloodletting

We have slashed, starved and stagnated transit since the mid 1980s. The statistics are a litany of bloodletting:

Between 2000 and 2007, a period during which the city's roads and traffic budget grew 56.5 percent from $36.8 million to $57.6 million, the HSR budget grew only 29 percent, from $21.6 million to $27.9 million. It was the smallest increase of any major city department.

Meanwhile, the great boom in ridership that cities around the world experienced in the mid- to late 2000s passed Hamilton by. We suffocated it with transit-unfriendly pricing policies.

Lukewarm Reversal

This was supposed to be a new era for transit investment and urban revitalization. Not in Hamilton.

While other cities pour their federal gas tax money into transit improvements, Hamilton dumps its federal gas tax money into the general budget to hold the line on tax increases.

We actually argued to the federal government that Hamilton had less than 500,000 people so we could behave like a small town and spend our federal money on roads and bridges rather than the transit for which it is intended.

Federal gas tax money comes with few strings attached, but the provincial money has conditions. We're supposed to spend it improving service and increasing ridership, and the level of funding is tied to ridership.

We're costing ourselves provincial gas tax money because each year we choose to forsake ridership gains through fare increases rather than grow ridership through increased funding and better service.

Unfair Fare Increases

Transit use, like everything else, responds to price signals. Every time a city raises transit fares, ridership drops. Every time a city lowers transit fares, ridership increases. The relationship between fares and ridership is strong, clear and exhaustively established.

Hamilton raised fares in mid-2007 and again in 2008. The city was able to avoid raising fares again in 2009 because the collapsing price of oil lowered the HSR's operating costs.

Now staff recommend increasing fares again in 2010, by 10 or 20 cents a ride and with proportional increases for tickets and monthly passes.

Staff claim that the city's operating costs are going back up as oil prices increase, while ridership is down due to the recession - more unemployed people means fewer rides to work. However, due to the HSR's current farebox system, the city has no precise data on ridership so the claim that ridership down is at best an estimate.

Staff emphatically do not recommend increasing the city's funding of transit to get more money into the system. Nor do they recommend fixing the city's broken area rating system for transit levies. In fact, the plan making its way through the city's finance department would replace area rating with an even worse arrangement.

Dysfunctional Area Rating System

Area rating is the bizarre system in Hamilton in which residents of different parts of the city pay different rates toward certain municipal services: transit, culture and recreation, and fire protection.

Hamilton is the only municipality in Ontario to do this, and it is a throwback to the forced amalgamation of the city with its suburban neighbours in 1999.

As a result, residents of the old city pay nearly three times as much for transit as residents in Glanbrook, three and a half times as much as residents in Stoney Creek, four times as much as residents in Dundas, and nearly five times as much as residents in Ancaster.

In 2007, Council acknowledged that the city's area rating system for transit levies is broken instructed staff to investigate options to fix it before the 2010 municipal election.

Area Rating Reform: Robbing Peter to Pay Paul

Unfortunately, the file has ended up in the hands of the Finance department, which insists that any change be strictly revenue-neutral.

In other words, transit levies for the suburban wards would go up, while the old city's rate would go down so that they are all equal and the total transit tax revenue doesn't change.

That's a full-on disaster. It means first of all that "fixing" area rating will result in no net increase of transit funds - one of the major failures of the current system.

Worse, since the suburbs currently pay lower rates in exchange for less service, balancing all the areas without increasing the total revenue implies that HSR's existing resources would then have to be redeployed and spread out to roughly the same level across the entire city.

Given that the old city is already significantly under-served for transit, measured poignantly by the number of "pass-bys" as overstuffed buses drive past people waiting at bus stops, this would take a bad situation and make it even worse.

Finally, it takes the current conflict between the old city and the suburbs and turns it on its head instead of resolving it. Imagine the howls of outrage when suburban ratepayers discover that their taxes would go up so the taxes of people living downtown can go down!

There Are Alternatives

Staff will claim that there is no alternative but to raise fares - either that or cut service. That's nonsense.

A real solution to area rating that brings the entire city's contribution up to what the old city pays would add millions of dollars in new revenue.

Committing the federal gas tax monies to transit instead of the general pool would give transit the capital dollars it desperately needs. The HSR currently funds capital purchases out of its operating revenue, the only significant department forced to do this.

Holding the line on fares and committing more money to service would increase ridership and qualify the city for more provincial money.

Embracing the Provincial Places to Grow framework and committing fully to infill development and intensification rather than never-ending sprawl would dramatically increase the productivity of our public infrastructure and allow the city to reduce its roads and traffic budget.

Operational Review

At the same meeting on Thursday at which Councillors will receive the staff transit recommendation, Councillors will also receive the report on an operational review of Hamilton's transit system that was conducted by IBI Consulting.

The public input into that review has been minimal - just two meetings with stakeholders, the first of which ended up canceled because of a scheduling error - but at least IBI Consulting has some expertise in making transit systems work.

Staff and Council are presumably hoping that the operational review will identify areas of waste and mis-allocated resources that the city can redeploy to make the HSR work better without spending any more money. I'll be surprised if any such areas exist, given the long starvation diet the HSR has endured.

One persistent rumour is that the consultant will actually recommend significant increases in public commitment and revenue to put Hamilton on track to achieving its objective of doubling ridership. That would undoubtedly include fare increases, but in the context of a greater commitment to transit across the board rather than instead of that greater commitment.

As it stands, the staff recommendation dumps the burden on riders without touching the other failures in Hamilton's transit plan or doing anything to move toward our strategic goals. The best that our Councillors can do is push the staff report back, reconsider the recommendations in the light of the operational review, and take the time and effort to incorporate real public input into the process.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted October 27, 2009 at 13:40:24

I filled out the transit survey and my recommendation was to lower the fares. If it is more affordable for people, then maybe more people would ride it. Thus by increasing the volume of riders, would bring in more dollars, like a sale price.

Council needs to engage with the people more, instead of relying on "staff" reports, as many of these people do not struggle, nor do they take the bus.

The "staff" lack insight as what to what is really going on the ground.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted October 27, 2009 at 15:15:34

Ryan >> So why is transit in Hamilton starved for funding, year after year after year?

From 2002-2008, transit funding went from $21,882,790 to $41,258,765, an average increase of 11.15%/year. In contrast, during the same time period, overall city expenditures went from $439,801,185 to $553,277,115, an average increase of 3.90%.

Therefore, expenditures on transit have risen almost 3x as fast as the overall city budget from 2002-08. If that isn't enough, how much would be?

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted October 27, 2009 at 15:31:03

What about the stolen money, the nearly one million dollars? Does this not affected the budget? While the city itself is not at fault for the funds going missing per se, why should those a the bottom suffer and pay more?

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted October 27, 2009 at 16:19:24

Ryan >> We know that transit is a critical investment in urban infrastructure and a key part of what makes cities centres of innovation and generators of wealth.

If spending on public transit is such a great investment, why aren't city revenues growing as fast as transit spending is? If each dollar spent on public transit produces more than a dollar of new assessment growth, why has transit spending gone from 4.98% of the budget to 7.46% from 2002-08. If anything, the opposite should be true, transit spending as a percentage of the overall budget should be decreasing, since $1 of transit spending will always produce more than that in new assessment.

Ryan, could you help sort this out?

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By randomguy (anonymous) | Posted October 27, 2009 at 16:44:12

Don't most of the buses run on natural gas rather than oil? Natural gas is quite cheap compare to oil right now, shouldn't that make a difference?

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted October 27, 2009 at 16:55:53

some areas of Hamilton have no bus service, yet the ranks of those that struggle reach out into those areas such as Glanbrook, Ancaster and Stoney Creek.

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By Cityjoe (anonymous) | Posted October 27, 2009 at 17:23:17

Here are my choices for getting Downtown:

1) 20 minute drive in car, climate controlled, etc.

2) FIVE buses, 1 1/2 hours of waiting at bus stops, no midday service to speak of, & no Sunday service at all. (& I will pay as much as somebody who actually Has reasonable service.)

?????? mmmmmmmm Decisions, decisions..... : )

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By & The Fish (anonymous) | Posted October 27, 2009 at 17:31:23

Why do you call yourself Cityjoe? You clearly live out in the sticks.

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By cityjoe (anonymous) | Posted October 27, 2009 at 17:33:58

Fish,... sticks?
I can only say that you live where your heart is, & where the past has formed you.

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By Cityjoe (anonymous) | Posted October 27, 2009 at 17:37:49

I take it you are not a fish.

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted October 27, 2009 at 17:39:41

City Joe: You bring up important feedback about the service in general, which clearly is in people's mind about their decision about using the bus instead of driving.

But we must think about those who do not drive and that the increase in the fares could have a negative affect.

What changes would you like to see?

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By Country Joe & The Fish (anonymous) | Posted October 27, 2009 at 17:42:48

I'm sure the 50's were a blast. But in 2009 any city worth its salt has a beefy transit system.

And don't exaggerate the convenience of driving. You sound like a car commercial. Funny how they never show the DVP (or RHVP in five years) at rush hour.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted October 27, 2009 at 18:03:41

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By Cityjoe (anonymous) | Posted October 27, 2009 at 20:06:53

You can't get people to take public transit by providing Awful service. You have to make public transit Usable. It can't just be there to say that you have it & leave it at that.

Taking 3 1/2 hours to get to work Isn't a viable or sensible option for anybody, & not being able to get there at all on Sundays, or on midday shifts doesn't make any sense either. I would think that would be obvious to anybody.

Dear Country Joe & yer Feesh. I am an advocate of public transit, & intercity rapid & have been since Forever (or at least from before you've been on this board) . What I'm saying is Hamilton is decades behind most comparable cities. It doesn't quite get public transit or it's importance in keeping a city's pollution levels down, & providing a better quality of life for everyone.

(Hamilton's current idea of public transit IS much like Toronto's in the 50's. A route must pay for itself from day one or we scrap it. All public transit leads to The Mall, not downtown, to the bus terminal, the airport, nor does it connect with any bus that does take you other places. This was the 50's mentality of Toronto Transit & current HSR. Bus service was a neighbouhood affair & service went in a little circuit to The Mall & back. We are a City now, & it's time public transit reflected that.

As a matter of fact I am in Favour of Public Transit, & intercity services such as GO. However since I don't have any HSR to speak of, I can't really use it can I? I wish I could!
...So you might wanna back off Fish & muzzle yer Blackberry & yer preconceived notions.

HSR is not a failed corperation because it requires taxpayers dollars. Most city transit system require tax dollar as well as money from the fares, & provincial money if/when given. There are places that even provide free transit

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By lukev (anonymous) | Posted October 27, 2009 at 22:03:07

Amalgamation just hasn't worked. Toronto is okay because it's entirely urban. But in the Hamilton mega city, where we have a Glanbrook councillor voting on issues like urban transit, how can we expect any progress?

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By Balance (anonymous) | Posted October 27, 2009 at 22:14:37

Hi A. Smith,

Please point out one North American public transit system that does not receive funding from the tax levy. TTC is the closest, 80% of their operational costs but no capital are paid by fares. You can't compare PUBLIC transit to private companies like Chrysler, it is ridiculous. People choose to live in municipalities based on the public services offered. Other money losing ventures are hockey arenas but they like public transit mean something to most people and enhance the quality of life for the residents.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted October 27, 2009 at 23:59:18

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By canbyte (registered) | Posted October 28, 2009 at 00:19:21

If A Smith is right (HSR gets 42 million) then Ryan has overstated his case by asserting that HSR only gets 27million??

If Ryan wants suburbs to pay more, should they be happy getting little (useless?) HSR service as CityJoe asserts? Presumably, giving them really good service as Grassroots wants would be astronomical.

A Smith doesn't trust public enterprise and wants to scrap HSR entirely. This is unfairly criticized by those not trustful of private enterprise (Balance, CityJoe). FACT: HSR shares a duopoly with regulated taxis. Result - inability to develop new ideas. The problem is that (contrary to the tenor of this article) there are too many buses running around with too few people in them. This is caused by density (lack of it). Get it through our collective head that Hamilton (outside the core) is not a city, except on paper, just a glorified suburb, so really, perhaps nothing is sustainable/affordable. Frontages here mostly exceed 40', many Toronto neighbourhoods average half that. Which partly explains our too-high taxes. Which explains our (relatively) depressed real estate prices.

Behind all this is the political reality that developers (& their construction buddies)run the show (by being the only contributors to political candidates). Why would a developer of new housing tracts want an efficient transit in a denser city? If you don't like this, get your wallet out and/or make signs for a new kind of candidate who wants a new kind of city.

Get the broom. Here's to a clean sweep.

Cheers

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted October 28, 2009 at 00:24:32

A Smith writes: why aren't people willing to pay the true cost of it's operation, as they do for businesses like Tim Horton's and McDonald's.

The true cost? I almost fall off of my chair. Now you just being ridiculous.

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By Meredith (registered) - website | Posted October 28, 2009 at 03:25:31

What's the Finance department's reasoning/motivation that the changes be revenue-neutral? Where do they get their instruction or direction from on that? And how can input come in at that level?

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By Scooter Commuter (anonymous) | Posted October 28, 2009 at 09:05:52

A theory: The '80s were a boom time for a lot of things; I hear there were even department stores downtown. Nowadays, however, the retail and employment advantage has shifted to the suburbs, and because the HSR's infrastructure doesn't service the mountain properly, people chose cars.

Hamilton's fare structure isn't totally wackadoo, IMHO. $2.50 adult cash fare is pretty much middle-of-the-road compared to most other Ontario cities, and cheaper than Burlington ($2.75) or Oakville ($3) or York Region ($3.25). Mississauga and Toronto seem like they'll be upping their fares in the new year. It happens. Nobody likes it, of course. It's never a good time to pay more for the same level of service for a fossilized system, but if the city is in fact facing a $31 million deficit for 2010, there won't be room for much more than platitudes and wafter-thin action plans. The good news is, once Metrolinx arrives, these arguments won't have to happen. I suspect fare increases will simply be mandated by the province.

Indulging my more cynical side, I suspect that the HSR is imagined to be revenue-neutral because of insufficient political will. Buses aren't sexy. Even transit activists will tell you that much. And (unlike the equally unsexy water/sewer infrastructure issue) the suburban bloc isn't even particularly well-served by the HSR. Some see it as a lower-city shuttle service for the working poor, and these cyclical fare-hike flare-ups do little to counter that POV. Given all of that, transit-based tax levies are political kryponite -- supporting a business that has a dysfunctional business plan -- especially going into an election year.

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By schmadrian (registered) | Posted October 28, 2009 at 11:57:46

"Some see it as a lower-city shuttle service for the working poor, and these cyclical fare-hike flare-ups do little to counter that POV."

Admittedly, I have a rep as Mr. Contrarian. But I ask this question as a Hamiltonian, as a bus-using resident, and as a lifetime car non-owner...even if it might seem as if I'm entering the discussion at a point late in the game with observations and questions that might be handled by some sort of FAQ...

What is the intent of the HSR?

In other words, what's the ideal result of public transit in this city? Ryan, what kind of scenario would put a smile on your face? I'm not going to get into the facts and figures, the revenue or ridership numbers; I'm talking basics here...because I think there are certain truths that get ignored in this discussion, ones that few people want to recognize, because they essentially render the well-intentioned dialogue to be moot.

Thanks in advance.

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By Really? (registered) | Posted October 28, 2009 at 12:43:30

schmadrian >> "What is the intent of the HSR?"

I think what the intent of HSR should be is a TTC-type, where buses come every 5-10 minutes, to feed you into a Higher Order Rapid Transit System (in Toronto's case the subway, for Hamilton, several Light Rail Lines across the City, including across Main in the lower City, and one across Mohawk on the Mountain, and the A-Line of course (in the least).

These LRTs should be Rapid, Efficient (every 10mins MAX), Comfortable & Safe.

Once a proper 'Big City System' is implemented, and it also takes 20-30 minutes to get Downtown using a Connected, Efficient & Rapid Transit System, people will begin to choose Public Transit over Personal Vehicles. Also, converting our arcaic One-Way Road System will ultimately assist is bringing up ridership as it wont be as convenient to drive anymore.

A massive re-working NEEDS to happen; But with the lack of Political Will and/or any sense of Political Leadership in Hamilton --along with the above-mentioned Heart-On Local Politicians have with Suburban Developpers-- things wont change.

I agree... Lets re-name Hamilton's 2010 election to: The Hamilton Clean Sweep 2010!

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted October 28, 2009 at 12:56:18

Great question, schmadrian! My response is posted here:

http://raisethehammer.org/blog/1548

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By schmadrian (registered) | Posted October 28, 2009 at 13:17:41

"Once a proper 'Big City System' is implemented, and it also takes 20-30 minutes to get Downtown using a Connected, Efficient & Rapid Transit System, people will begin to choose Public Transit over Personal Vehicles."

I'm sorry, but although I admire the strength of your longings, this view is naïve. And because so much is at stake, also a little dangerous.

On the weekend, the Toronto Star ran an article asking the question 'Why are Toronto roads constantly gridlocked?' (I'm paraphrasing.) And it was fascinating to read the comments. Because...and this is where the aforementioned 'truths' come into play...they revealed where peoples' priorities lie. What they were willing to consider...and what they rejected out-of-hand.

Building more roads creates more congestion. (Ask Robert Moses, the builder of the mess in NYC that helped construct the modern value system most of us wrap our arms around) So it's not a matter of building more highways if we want less congestion. It means getting cars off the road. And the alternative? Mass/public transit? Maybe. But there's a problem:

We live in a car-centric culture. The automobile is at the core of our value system. (Not mine, and not everyone's, admittedly. But it's still there.) Until we have a shift in our value system, nothing will change.

Let me rephrase that: people want their cars. They demand their cars. Proof of this can be found on tv, in print, online. And it's bizarre, because cars have become the Number One Means of Proving Your Worth; strange, when they're merely an evolved form of the horse.

I'd be willing to bet that most of the people I see on the buses I'm on every day, were they able to afford it, would be driving. They wouldn't be taking the bus. (I'm not talking about Hamilton-Toronto commuters. Different animal entirely...although very much related.)

I know, I know; I can hear the yells and screams from those who want public transit as the paradigm within which our culture thrives...but that fervor doesn't change anything. No matter what kind of system you construct, no matter how good it is, no matter how well it works, until this mindset is changed, the Great Movement To A Better Way will be encumbered. Until a sixteen year old no longer wants their driver's license more than anything else in the universe, the kind of world we all would love to see is going to be slow in coming...if it in fact ever arrives.

So to me, this isn't just a question of funding. It's not just a question of politics, of management, or any of the associated elements. Never has been. It's a question of changing a value system. And that's a much, much harder task than any that could possibly be presented as 'what needs to be accomplished'.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted October 28, 2009 at 14:23:35

We live in a car-centric culture.

That's garden variety exceptionalism. All the available evidence demonstrates that people respond to incentives and that the role of "culture" is overrated - i.e. what we call "culture" is the more the cumulative effect of our decisions than the cause.

Regardless of "culture", if you make it easier to drive, more people will drive longer distances more often. Conversely, if you make it harder to drive and easier to use other modes, people will drive less.

Consider the average per capita distance driven by Americans over the past decade, which slowed steadily each year as oil prices rose, flattened in 2007 and then actually dropped 5 percent in 2008 when oil prices peaked well over $100 per barrel.

That happened entirely as a result of fuel price signals. Imagine the shift if higher gas prices were coupled with other financial, regulatory and structural incentives.

In fact, cities that build light rail systems in the past decade saw per capita driving fall significantly more steeply than cities that did not. In other words, if you simultaneously disincentivize driving and incentivize transit by making it more available and convenient, people will shift from automobiles to transit.

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By Really? (registered) | Posted October 28, 2009 at 14:28:54

schmadrian >> "It's a question of changing a value system."

^^ I agree 100%!

But how can we change these people's attitudes if we don't give them choice!? Toronto's roads may be congested b/c there are only two central Subway Lines (Sheppard & SRT don't count as they strictly cater to suburbs, primarily).

Toronto is FINALLY building a Crosstown Rapid Transit Line (Eglinton LRT), along with 6 other Light Rail lines across the whole City, both North-South & East-West. That, imo, is still not enough. They need a Downtown Relief Line as the 'inner-U' of the subway is usually standing room only during rush hours, if you can even get on (yes, subway fly-bys happen).

Hamilton's ideal situation (to start with) would have the B-Line (Main St), A-Line (James/Upper James), C-Line (Mohawk Rd). That, along with efficient feeder buses, would provide those with an alternative to a personal vehicle, again, aslong as they're as Safe, Efficient & Comfortable as a personal vehicle. Throw in the cost difference (~$100/mth for HSR Pass compared to Driving Costs (payments, insurance, gas, maintenance, ?parking?). It's the City's job to educate those who are ignorant towards public transit and attract new riders, but Hamilton Fails there as well.

Another way of generating more revenue is to perhaps sell ad space on and within buses. Currently, I'd say 50-75% of ads in buses now are City ads (ie: Sex Health Clinics, 'Graffitti is a Crime', etc.) while the remaining are either Public Interest ads (ie: Transit Prayers) and maybe an ad for a local Credit Union.

It just seems to me that no one wants to put an effort and actually come up with a proper solution, but rather keep slapping more and more bandaids on, hoping the Next Generation will take care of the problems? That's a Baby Boomer attitude --which a lot of City Staff & Council are-- and will not change until enough of them retire, quit, or are terminated and are replaced with younger, more logical thinkers who actually do give a damn about this City!!

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By madmatt (anonymous) | Posted October 28, 2009 at 14:39:18

A Smith >>If mass transit is a valuable service, consumers will pay for it and businesses will provide it. It's that simple. The fact that the HSR needs taxpayers subsidies to survive, puts it in the league of other failed companies, such as AIG, Citibank and Chrysler. Only providers that can't manage resources effectively need the government to prop them up

I've got a great idea to save the city a HUGE amount of cash that will also stimulate our poor insurance industry; why not scrap the Fire Dept. and go back to the good old days of private insurance company run fire fighters? The ultimate free enterprise user pay system!! "Your house in fire but, sorry, you're not our customer. Call your own insurance company."

Private bus companies providing inner city service? Yeah, right. Even Greyhound has to ask for government cash to operate. Public transit, like the fire dept, is not meant to turn a profit (although that would be great), it is meant to serve the GREATER PUBLIC!!!!

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By schmadrian (registered) | Posted October 28, 2009 at 14:54:41

"That's garden variety exceptionalism. All the available evidence demonstrates that people respond to incentives and that the role of "culture" is overrated - i.e. what we call "culture" is the more the cumulative effect of our decisions than the cause."

Listen... I applaud any and all efforts to change things.

I hate that decisions were made decades ago that determined this aspect of our society. (Another discussion entirely.)

I hate that our communities have, for the longest time, been designed around the automobile.

But Ryan, seriously; how you replied speaks volumes. You seem quite content to ignore just how deeply embedded this cultural imperative is. Good luck reconciling what you crave...with reality.

You have a hearty passion for your ideals, a vibrant intellect, and a forum. I wish you the best in your endeavours to effect the changes you hold precious.

Having said that, my prediction is that public transit will indeed get better. But that the world you envision...especially in the Hamilton area...will never come to pass. In fact, I'll say this: that when the time comes for the petroleum-fueled, internal combustion-driven automobile to meet its end, the replacement won't be dense public transit...it'll be another form of the Individual Locomotion Device most have come to worhship...but with another power source.

Certainly within our lifetimes the paradigm will remain pretty much as it is. Mostly because of one of my own beliefs: 'Change only really happens either in a crisis...or when something 'sexier' is presented to a consumer-based society.' And the limits of public transit in a world designed around the car just aren't sexy. (Of course, if you can manage a migration from a society based on consumption to one based more on the experiential...then we're talking a whole different ballgame.)

Right; I have to get on my way to catch a bus. Cheers!

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By Really? (registered) | Posted October 28, 2009 at 15:06:46

schmadrian >> "that the world you envision...especially in the Hamilton area...will never come to pass. "

So you're pretty much saying, "If you want a Better/More Urban Lifestyle, move to Toronto (or Montreal, Portland, NYC, etc)"!??!?!

Why should we have to?! Why can't we advocate for change within OUR City to make OUR City as Urban-Friendly as Toronto? Is it because 'we don't want it'!? I doubt that considering the hoards of Hamiltonians that go to Toronto on a daily basis jsut to get that 'Urban Feel' (shopping along Queen St, riding the subway/streetcar, whatever).

Is it because Hamilton is so auto-centric (One-Way Expressways, Timed Lights, Surface Parking Everywhere)!? Then we change that; Two-Way Conversion, Priority Signals for Transit, surface lots developped into Commercial/Residential/Public use, not just for seas of cars to park between 9-5).

Hamilton has all the tools, a great urban fabric (yes, even outside of Downtown), a passionate population... yet no will/care from those that we look to for Leadership.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted October 28, 2009 at 15:38:33

madmatt >> Public transit, like the fire dept, is not meant to turn a profit (although that would be great), it is meant to serve the GREATER PUBLIC!!!!

The HSR gets $42 million/year from the taxpayers of Hamilton to keep it operating. If the residents of Hamilton were given back that money, do you think they would be willing to pay higher bus fares to make up the difference, or would they spend some of that $42 million on other things?



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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted October 28, 2009 at 15:55:10

But Ryan, seriously; how you replied speaks volumes. You seem quite content to ignore just how deeply embedded this cultural imperative is.

How I replied was to cite empirical evidence that supports my thesis and contradicts your claim that people drive because of some deep-seated "cultural imperative" rather than because of the host of subsidies and incentives that make driving an easy choice to make.

Am I ignoring the "cultural imperative" or are you overstating it?

If people drove due to a "driving culture" and did not respond to incentives, then the rate of driving should not be significantly affected by either the cost of gasoline or the availability of other transit options.

However, that's not what happens. There's a pretty strong correlation between the availability of infrastructure to support a given transportation mode and the amount of traveling by that mode.

This is true of driving, transit and cycling, and it's true across both space (different jurisdictions) and time (changes in a given jurisdiction). It's also as true in North America as it is in Europe.

People respond to incentives. Culture is mutable, not fixed.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted October 28, 2009 at 16:05:01

Ryan >> We know that transit is a critical investment in urban infrastructure and a key part of what makes cities centres of innovation and generators of wealth.

What is the expected return on investment for transit spending in Hamilton? Could you provide a rough estimate?

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By Jonathan Dalton (registered) | Posted October 28, 2009 at 16:16:25

"Having said that, my prediction is that public transit will indeed get better. But that the world you envision...especially in the Hamilton area...will never come to pass."

What specifically is this goal that will never come to pass? If it's roads with zero cars and a transit modal share of 100%, you are correct. However the City's own objective of doubling the transit modal share, I believe, is easily attainable with enough investment.

Sure there's a car culture here. There's a car culture everywhere. China is a car culture too, with the rate that they're buying them. I agree with you that the cultural aspect is an impediment. However it is exceptionalism to apply that to Hamilton, but not to other North American cities which have set and attained ridership goals higher than ours.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted October 28, 2009 at 16:31:30

Ryan >> Every time a city raises transit fares, ridership drops. Every time a city lowers transit fares, ridership increases.

Every time a city raises transit fares, taxes drop. Every time a city lowers transit fares, taxes increase.

The great thing about lowering taxes is that it allows individuals to decide where they want to spend their money. If the HSR is delivering a great service, people can choose to take their tax savings and pay more in fares. If they don't believe that HSR is doing a great job, they can spend their money elsewhere in the city, like a local restaurant or retail establishment.

In other words, why should the people of Hamilton be forced to pay for transit if they would rather spend that money on other things?

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By madmatt (anonymous) | Posted October 28, 2009 at 16:55:45

A Smith >>The HSR gets $42 million/year from the taxpayers of Hamilton to keep it operating. If the residents of Hamilton were given back that money, do you think they would be willing to pay higher bus fares to make up the difference, or would they spend some of that $42 million on other things?

How much does the Police Services cost /year? We still have crime in the city so they can't be doing a very good job(it is a government department after all). So why don't we privatize them and get minimum wage mall cops instead? We'd save millions and any "customers" who get robbed probably deserved it anyway for not contracting with the best security services corporation.

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By LL (registered) - website | Posted October 28, 2009 at 18:11:19

City Hall and the HSR are lazy with transit. Not putting any effort into the HSR at all. Just letting it dilapitate so the caped crusader Metrolinx takes it over.

Losing municipal autonomy is not a good thing!

The budget increases A Smith cites (whether accurate or not) could go a long way with some folks who are passionate about transit at the steering wheel. Let's have some real binding citizen input into the HSR.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted October 28, 2009 at 18:50:45

madmatt, why can't you answer the question directly? If given the choice to spend their own income, would people spend the $42 million on the HSR or only part of it? If they would only spend part of the $42 million on transit, that means that money is being wasted on things people don't want. How is this a good thing?

>> How much does the Police Services cost /year? We still have crime in the city so they can't be doing a very good job

2002 - $85,142,010
2008 - $116,051,430

This is an increase of 36.3% during which time tax revenue went up 32.1%. Because tax revenue reflects property values, which reflects how much people want to live in this city, this indicates that the money being spent on the police service is not resulting in an equal or improved quality of life in this city.

Ultimately, the goal of government should be to invest in areas and in ways where doing so increases tax revenue faster than expenditures.

LL >> The budget increases A Smith cites (whether accurate or not) could go a long way with some folks who are passionate about transit at the steering wheel.

You're 100% correct. If the city started managing it's transit dollars more efficiently, with an eye towards delivering the largest amount of customer value/dollar of cost, it might make sense to increase the transit budget to $100 million from it's current $42 million.

However, the only way to know if value is being created by investing in the HSR is to show profits. One way to help this along would be to reward the people in charge of the HSR with bonuses that were tied to this profit. As HSR managers did a better job of managing taxpayer resources, they would produce bigger profits and they would be rewarded for their success. Finally, the remaining profits could either flow back into transit improvements, or go to reducing tax rates for citizens.

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted October 28, 2009 at 21:23:15

A Smth writes: One way to help this along would be to reward the people in charge of the HSR with bonuses that were tied to this profit.

well it seems to me that senior management of the HSR already gets good money, benefits and pensions, yet they are doing a bad job, so how does giving them more money help the process?

Another thing, the HSR it made up of mnay different people which includes all the frontline workers, yet you seem to forget that they should be entitled to performance bonuses.

It seems to me that there is possibly a lot of deadweight at the top,since they are failing already.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted October 28, 2009 at 22:11:40

grassroots >> the HSR it made up of mnay different people which includes all the frontline workers, yet you seem to forget that they should be entitled to performance bonuses.

You're right, I don't know what I was thinking. A better idea would be for the city to hire every single resident and pay them $30/hr. In this way, Hamilton would have the highest wages in the country and because everyone worked for the government, we could never get fired.

Do you like that idea?

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted October 28, 2009 at 23:01:51

A Smith: The point I was trying to make in rebuttal to yours was that a business entity is made up of many workers. Why should those only at the top be allocated performance bonuses when for the most part they are the ones making the bad decisions, yet the entity does not function without all the parts?

It seems to me that the government is really good at giving millions of dollars to consultants, that has been reported in the news but what about what we do not know about?

But then business has been very affective in the privatization model, which in the end costs the tax payers more.

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By JonC (registered) | Posted October 28, 2009 at 23:03:07

For canbyte in particular, I'm not sure why anyone actually assumes that Smith presents actual facts. What Smith fails to note is that the transit budget now includes Darts in the total transit cost, along with HSR. Either he's being intentionally dishonest or he honestly thought the budget shot up by over 10M in one year. Either way, please enjoy my demolishing of his previous argument.....

First, the demonstration of combining budget line items from 2007 to 2008.

For 2007 approved budget

Transit 27,001,610 Accessible Transportation Services (DARTS) 10,733,737

http://www.myhamilton.ca/NR/rdonlyres/73...

Notice that in 2008, the budget now states (feel free to find separate entries for HSR & DARTS if you'd like).

Transit 2007 ---> 37,594,054 & 2008 ---> 40,250,550

http://www.myhamilton.ca/NR/rdonlyres/CE...

and again in 2009 in 2009

Transit 42,208,389

http://www.myhamilton.ca/NR/rdonlyres/21...

Assuming the same ratio of HSR/Darts funding (giving HSR funding of 28.8M), the actual increase to HSR funding over 2002 - 2009 is actually 4.52%

Additionally, Smith has stated the 2002 HSR funding to be 4.98% of the total budget and the 2009 HSR budget accounts for 5.14% of the total city expenditures (560M). If you include the boards and agencies (which you should since they are part of the total budget and primarily are police services) HSR has actually decreased from 4.17% of the budget to 3.98% of the budget.

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By canbyte (registered) | Posted October 29, 2009 at 00:05:33

Thanks JonC for the links and detail. That'll keep me & Smith busy for a bit but its always good to have a libertarian (i guess) around since private options always get pushed under the carpet. Too many folks take the taxpayer for granted. Too much pie-in-the-sky thinking abut a lot of stuff, not just this item.

I wish i knew the answer (other than starting over completely) but as John Stossel says, get the shovel!

Cheers.

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By lukev (anonymous) | Posted October 29, 2009 at 00:22:53

>> schmadrian

Your assertion that Canadians car culture changes slowly is laughable. Look at how much Toronto has changed in just 20 years. It's literally changed complexion. Most of the people are not Canadian, they were born overseas.

In Hamilton, there will be a huge demographic shift as the seniors die out and new immigrants come in. Hamilton will be changing drastically, as will it's culture. If the transit is good when new arrivals come in, they won't bother with car ownership.

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By 5C Sardine (anonymous) | Posted October 29, 2009 at 06:22:19

"when the time comes for the petroleum-fueled, internal combustion-driven automobile to meet its end, the replacement won't be dense public transit...it'll be another form of the Individual Locomotion Device most have come to worhship...but with another power source."

e.g. www.youtube.com/watch?v=iAfhDB0CDr4

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted October 29, 2009 at 14:58:07

JonC, thanks for correcting my "honest" mistake.

2002 Combined HSR + DARTS = $31,947,840
2002 Tax Revenue = $477,072,305
Transit as % of Tax Rev = 6.67%

2008 Combined HSR + DARTS = $31,947,840
2008 Tax Revenue = $630,065,330
Transit as % of Tax Rev = 6.54%

There you have it, overall transit spending as a % of tax revenues has gone down from 2002 to 2008, not risen, as I had suggested.

>> please enjoy my demolishing of his previous argument.....

My argument was that transit spending should be decreasing as a percentage of tax revenues if it does indeed create positive returns on investment. Looking at the corrected numbers from 2002-08, it would appear as if it does. This is a positive result.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted October 29, 2009 at 14:59:43

ERROR

2008 Combined HSR + DARTS = $31,947,840

SHOULD BE

2008 Combined HSR + DARTS = $41,258,765

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By frank (registered) | Posted October 30, 2009 at 10:35:57

Ok, funniest thing ever:

ASmith> "Madmatt can't you answer the question directly?" hahah!!

Anyway, I grew up around cars with my dad being a mechanic. I love cars and by definition I should be part of the car-centric culture. However, I HATE having to drive downtown. I'd much rather hop on a bus or train to get there. The problem is that it takes eons to get to my destination! So, once a viable transit system is in place that can get me downtown in at least relatively close to what it would take in my car, I won't be using it.

As far as 16 year olds wanting their driver's license, that's being taken FAR to literally. A 16 year old doesn't want their license simply so they can drive... it's a sign of independence - an ability to go anywhere when they want to rather than having to wait for mom and dad to drive them there. It has nothing to do with wanting a car although there's the occasional gearhead like me who wants a car. I know many people who are in their 20s with no license because they take the bus all the time. Old people shouldn't comment on young peoples' motives and desires :P

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By crtsvg (registered) | Posted November 06, 2009 at 23:42:27

A Smith you sound like an Elitist right wing conservative, please move to the United States of America and become a farmer and give all your hard earned money to the church. I think public transit should be free to riders and completely supported by hard working tax payers like you so that Hamilton can have the best transit system anywhere. You are a very selfish person only thinking about yourself and your hard earned money. Shame on you for not wanting to contribute to a better society and just wanting to keep your money for your greedy self so you can go to more restaurants.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted November 08, 2009 at 12:48:32

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

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By crtsvg (registered) | Posted November 09, 2009 at 22:06:45

I own two cars and haven't been on a bus in twenty four years, and I won't be anymore sad than you already are you greedy self centered elitist pig. Are you friends with Stephen Harper?

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By crtsvg (registered) | Posted November 27, 2009 at 19:26:56

A Smith

http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/artic...

"This Conservative party has a deep vein of meanness to it. It's a party that kicks people when they are down,"

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By Angela Browne (anonymous) | Posted December 28, 2009 at 23:24:07

A Smith should consider the massive subsidies given by taxpayers, including those that don't drive that pay for roads, highways, traffic lights, road policing, accident clean-up, environmental clean-up, parking lots, etc. that non-drivers don't benefit from, but still pay for ...

Maybe A Smith can read how much he gets subsidized as a single driver by the rest of us, including those that don't drive or can't due to disability or affordability. The Victoria Public Transport Institute, has published several studied by Todd Littman, which imply that a single driver pays only 50% of the true cost of their mode of transportation, while a transit user pays about two thirds.

As a taxpayer, I resent my money going to subsidize automakers that will only turn around and support more congestion on my community's roads and further divide the haves and the have nots in my community. Maybe employers should start to smarten up and hire people that use public transit as opposed to drive a car, for starters ...

A Smith has the same elitist, me-first attitude that many employers in my region have towards hiring qualified persons that can do a job, except deny them for the sake of not having a driver's license ... and NO, these jobs are NOT driving jobs ... these are in-office jobs.

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