Transportation

Hamilton Gas Tax Transfer Drops Due to Poor Ridership

By Ryan McGreal
Published June 22, 2010

Did you catch this tidbit in today's Spectator?

Transit: The city is losing $300,000 from provincial gas tax funding, money that's doled out to cities based on population and transit ridership.

Since other municipalities in the area are investing in transit - and their ridership is becoming greater - those cities will receive more funding.

Hamilton's ridership hasn't increased at the same high rate, so the city expects a smaller gas tax contribution from the provincial government.

That's right. While the rest of the industrialized world is responding to energy price volatility by rolling out significant transit improvements, Hamilton has spent the past few years jacking up fare prices and nullifying the ridership gains that might otherwise have flowed from rising gas prices.

Now the provincial gas tax formula is punishing us for failing to do what just about every other city in North America managed to do: boost transit ridership during the first throes of the epochal paradigm shift (sorry, Ben) away from easy motoring.

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 jason (registered) | Posted June 22, 2010 at 17:49:10

I hate to say it but I ride the bus less now than I used to. I just started walking more....it's quicker than waiting for full buses to pass by every 30 minutes in the evening and with garbage connections to boot. If the HSR is happy with a crappy product, I'm reluctantly forced to find another way around.

While on the NYC subway last week I was impressed to see our train pull into a station and the driver announce a 60 second wait for another line to pull in and allow people to transfer. Sure enough, 60 seconds later a train pulls into the opposite side of the platform and about 10 people got off and came directly on our train.

Yes, 10 people. In Hamilton I've seen buses pulling away from the Gore at the same moment that others are pulling in. Riders run like heck to catch the departing buses to no avail.
There's no cohesive scheduling, no convenient routing on many routes, a purely trashy internet presence and NO smart phone app, real-time arrive/departure time service. And don't even talk about evening service.

I'm glad the city installed LED lights and a green roof on City Hall. They need to be as energy efficient as possible to make up for all the people they are leaving with no choice but to drive around town.

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By alrathbone (registered) | Posted June 22, 2010 at 18:26:58

Jason I completely agree with you 100%. I expressed much of the same in an article last year. I don't know If you have tried emailing the powers that be but their responses are useless.

Scott Duvall got back to me within a day (and it was almost christmas!) and had me in contact with Don Hull (who was nice but just made excuses). Eisenberger never replied beyond an automatic reply.

Eisenberger (and other council members who are ineffective or don't give a rats furry tail) need to go ASAP!

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted June 22, 2010 at 22:09:09

Yes, 10 people. In Hamilton I've seen buses pulling away from the Gore at the same moment that others are pulling in. Riders run like heck to catch the departing buses to no avail. There's no cohesive scheduling, no convenient routing on many routes, a purely trashy internet presence and NO smart phone app, real-time arrive/departure time service. And don't even talk about evening service.

Yep. I've ended up spending gas to drive kids to high school (after having shelled out for transit passes) because of HSR nonsense-- buses coming early, buses coming late, buses driving by and not picking up people waiting at the stop. Anyone remember that kerfuffle awhile back about HSR drivers not stopping at bus stops because the people waiting at the bus stop didn't step out and flag them down? It had something to do with drivers complaining about not knowing if the people waiting at the stop wanted that bus or another bus that shared that part of the route- never heard that one in all my years in TO, as annoying as TTC service can be at times.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted June 22, 2010 at 22:13:42

If fare increases bring in more revenue, but lowers ridership and then causes us to lose our provincial gas tax subsidies...

Has anyone bothered to do the calculations to determine whether we recouped more from the fare hike than we lost from the provincial government? Seems like we might be shooting ourselves in the foot here...

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By Henry and Joe (anonymous) | Posted June 22, 2010 at 22:31:45

Since I commute out of town, my HSR use is limited. I take the # 6 bus to go downtown occasionally. It is always on time according to the google map application. It is quite slow and comes by once an hour, but it is a more off the beaten path route, so that is to be expected IMO.

As for ironic calculations, consider the $250.00 HSR levy on my property taxes. When I add in the fare, about 10 trips works out to $27.50/ trip.

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By Mike Lane (anonymous) | Posted June 23, 2010 at 07:32:24

This may sound slightly cheeky, but to what extent does the rise of bicycle culture enter into the equation? Seems to me that milder winters and the newfound fashionability of cheap cycling among those 30 and under (along with a year of economic malaise that discouraged unnecessary spending) might factor into the equation, no? Do you know anyone with a bike (and no car) who'll take the bus on a day when it's not seriously inclement?

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted June 23, 2010 at 08:52:20

I sometimes ride a bike and I sometimes take the bus. I'm pretty lazy, so I'd take the bus more if the service was better. Unfortunately the service is kind of lousy so I end up riding my bike more. Better for my health probably but not a good sign for the HSR.

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 23, 2010 at 08:53:22

it's too bad nobody was able to predict that fare increases would lead to lower ridership.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted June 23, 2010 at 09:24:55

I live a five minute drive from the downtown (way up on the mountain :-p), but unless I'm carpooling with someone I take the bus rather than drive. It's just easier for me, and service is decent in this area mainly because I'm within 3 blocks of 7 different bus routes that all head downtown.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted June 23, 2010 at 11:50:13

it's too bad nobody was able to predict that fare increases would lead to lower ridership. jason

Somebody needs to label the big picture for our politicians so they know when they're looking at it.

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By Don McLean (anonymous) | Posted June 23, 2010 at 13:54:52

All of this was predicted, at least in the earlier staff reports on the implications of fare hikes, but the scary part is not just the fares. It's the lack of serious investment by the city in the HSR. Essentially, the only investment since the early 1990s has been as a result of provincial gas taxes. And if the city isn't willing to put anything into its transit system - and join the rest of the world in the effort to reduce car dependency, as Ryan notes - then what message does that send to the provincial government about providing funding support for LRT? The council can't suck and blow at the same time - saying they are enthusiastic about the LRT but refusing to make transit improvement a priority.

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By Mike Lane (anonymous) | Posted June 23, 2010 at 14:48:44

I refuse to be a Glum Gus. I plan on thinking of it as a covert walkability study. ;p

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By 60+ (anonymous) | Posted June 23, 2010 at 15:38:49

No, not 30 or younger, but I've been riding a bike the past few years for the familiar reasons, and increasing my range steadily. Living on the mountain it was handy to have bike racks on buses. I'd pedal downtown and ride the HSR back up the hill. At least I did until a bus driver refused to let me put my bike on the rack one rainy noon-hour. He was concerned the box I've bolted over my bike's rear wheel would fly off, though I assured him it hadn't happened on previous trips, and that it was held by two bolts, and even had the bike inside the bus where he could check its stability for himself.

The HSR assured me in a subsequent phone call that such decisions were within the driver's authority. And that makes sense too . . . I'm sure some home-rigged attachments to bicycles can come off during a bounce over Hamilton roads, but it was pretty clear to me that day that the driver's decision was made because he had the authority to do so, not because he was concerned about the box parting company.

I've not encountered this with other bus drivers. This one was polite enough, but resolute. And his decision did spur me to undertake the challenge of pedalling my bike back up the escarpment, which I now do regularly (thanks!) But as much as I actually enjoy riding public transit I now realize I cannot rely upon the HSR, and won't put myself in a position of dependence on their service again. In Hamilton you always need a backup plan.

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By Peeved (anonymous) | Posted June 23, 2010 at 18:48:26

Good; if ridership is down we don't have to expand the system. We save money. Wooohoooo!!!

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By adam2 (anonymous) | Posted June 23, 2010 at 21:58:51

All the cyclists (with VERY few exceptions) on the roads are under 40 or over 70. This baby boomer generation seems to be very anti-cyclist and I can't understand why. I've seen young parents with kids riding bikes in a row to school, so the whole "I'm a parent so I can't" think doesn't hold water. I know many under 40 crowd who wouldn't take a job with a 30min+ commute, but some people just don't seem to care I guess?

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By frank (registered) | Posted June 24, 2010 at 09:02:43

Don MacLean wrote: "then what message does that send to the provincial government about providing funding support for LRT?"

It says "We'll improve our transit system if you pay for it".

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