The Hamilton Spectator's opposition to another bus fare hike is most welcome and well-founded. But their "solution" of asking the HSR to further tighten its belt is not practical.
The HSR has been forced to cut back almost continuously for the last 20 years by councils that see transit as little more than social assistance. In the 1990s, the HSR budget was slashed by 40 percent, and even today, despite years of provincial gas tax subsidies, it is still 20 percent lower than it was in 1994.
Comparisons with other Canadian municipalities show that the HSR is already one of the lowest cost-per-ride transit systems in the country. Unfortunately, that's meant poorer service.
Many routes run for only seven hours a day with no weekend service. Basic tools such as marketing and passenger counts have been largely eliminated. Routes tour across the whole city - one going from downtown Stoney Creek to Ancaster with four different branches, and another meandering from Meadowlands across the mountain to the steel mills via Ottawa or Kenilworth.
The fare hikes, after deducting the lost ridership caused by them, will generate only $1.29 million. That's could be covered by a tax increase of only $6 per home. Nearly every other city in the greater golden horseshoe is vigorously expanding their transit systems. They understand that good bus service supports existing businesses and attracts new investment, in addition to its environmental and social benefits.
Most Hamiltonians understand this too, as shown by the overwhelming support for the light rail rapid transit proposals. But many councillors say the money has to come from somewhere else, that Hamilton can't afford such improvements - which helps explain why other municipalities are a higher priority for provincial transit investments. Queen's Park helps those who help themselves.
We cannot afford not to dramatically improve our transit system. The health impacts of air pollution, looming climate chaos, an aging population, an energy-constrained future and especially the economic meltdown are each powerful arguments for investing much more in the HSR and DARTS.
This blog entry was also published in the Hamilton Spectator as a letter to the editor.
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