Transportation

Shame on Council for Raising HSR Fares

By Ryan McGreal
Published March 27, 2007

(This blog entry has been updated)

Dear Mayor Eisenberger and City Councillors,

Congratulations: on a smog day in March, you voted to reduce transit use by 550,000 rides a year.

In voting to raise transit fares by 40 cents over three years, you have betrayed this city's vision and goals.

You have betrayed the nine GRIDS directions, betrayed Vision 2020, betrayed your commitment to addressing climate change, betrayed your commitment to the one in five Hamiltonians who live in poverty, betrayed your commitment to improve our air quality, and betrayed your commitment to make Hamilton the best place to raise a child.

While cities around the world take slow, tentative steps toward sustainability, you have taken a bold stride in the opposite direction.

With the anti-idling bylaw adrift in a doldrum of subcommittees, you have amply demonstrated your priorities and values by moving forcefully against the city's most vulnerable people. Those priorities and values are not shared by the residents of this city who pay your salaries and entrust you to make sound decisions on their behalf.

While some of the city's most affluent residents contribute nothing toward transit, you have voted to saddle the poorest residents with more of the burden of supporting a public good that already disproportionately falls on the poor compared to other cities.

Transit is a public good. It benefits everyone, even people who don't use it, by reducing traffic congestion, reducing air pollution, and improving the city's competitiveness.

The first order of business for any councillor who claims to support transit is to eliminate area rating, in which different parts of the city pay different amounts toward transit (and some pay nothing at all). Hamilton is the only city that does this, and it's an absurd throwback to amalgamation that keeps our priorities divided.

Ending area rating would raise a lot more money than the fare hike and would open the city to plan its transit system based on what makes sense rather than on arbitrary political boundaries.

It's not too late to revisit this decision. Council still has the opportunity to do the right thing, honour its commitments, and make its decisions based on the city's shared values and goals.

Sincerely,

Ryan McGreal
Editor, Raise the Hammer

Update: I slightly reworded this letter and added three paragraphs at the end before sending it to council. -Ed.

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 March 27, 2007 at 17:49:56

it's official. Hamilton's political nonsense flows much deeper than the mayor's office. I stupidly thought that getting a mayor in there not paid off by anyone would bring real change. Obviously he has no more control over the deadbeats that run the hall than you or I. If they insist on this area rating system, I'm sure the 40% of downtown residents who don't own a car would love to opt out of Hamilton's never-ending spending spree on roads and highways. Let's make area rating fair for everyone, not just the suburban rich. I really don't know what else to say. Is it 2007 or 1960??
Gazing out my window at York Blvd brings my answer - 1960.

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted March 27, 2007 at 20:17:09

Congratulations Indeed. OTher cities are growing ridership by 3% a year and we're kicking people off as fast as we can. Yay smog!

I'm mpretty sure we can guess the jackals that voted for the fare hike. My money is on Ferguson, Mitchell, Pearson, Collins, Jackson, Clark, McCarthy, Powers, and maybe Pasuta. Between not wanting their constituents to pay their share of the cost of transit and having a good old fashioned hate-on for the public weal, they'd love nothing more than to wrap downtown in a hefty bag and truck it to a landfill in Michigan.

I hope you've got your nose filters in place, Maria and Dave and Lloyd. You're going to need them when you come downtown for summer council sessions.

This council is so pathetic.

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By jesseTheBody (anonymous) | Posted March 27, 2007 at 20:52:44

Its official: only four months into a four year term, we have a lame-duck, do-nothing council. Is it too much to ask that the people running a city should have the first. Freaking. Clue. About how a city works? Well is it?

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By adrian (registered) | Posted March 27, 2007 at 20:59:16

This is absolutely unacceptable. There was no support for this hike among Hamiltonians. I read through the It's Your Future survey results and I was amazed by the number of people who mentioned public transit as a top priority for the city. Not just public transit: AFFORDABLE, efficient public transit.

I think it is important that we get the names of the councilors who voted in favour of the hike (rather than guess, although I'm interested to see how nobrainer's prediction turns out). These councilors have already, by their actions, shown they aren't accountable to what Hamiltonians want. But I'd like to hear them try and justify themselves anyways.

There is no doubt that public transit is one of Hamilton's biggest challenges. There is no doubt that excellent, affordable public transit is a hallmark of every successful city. And that means that this decision, which city planners admit will diminish ridership, makes this a sad day for Hamilton.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 27, 2007 at 22:39:31

I usually have no use for the grandstanding behaviour of Councilor Merulla, but today I'm proud to hear that he fought hard for Hamilton's economy, environment, seniors, students, workers and businesses that rely on public transit everyday. More on his fiesty behaviour can be read on

www.hallmarks.thespec.com

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 27, 2007 at 23:22:39

Let's not forget that a big part of why Hamilton is in such a financial pickle is (drum roll please) the Red Hill Expressway, which Merulla supported enthusiastically.

Unless and until he repents that support, any noises he makes about transit are just hypocritical blather.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 27, 2007 at 23:43:43

I checked out the Hall Marks report (thanks for the shout out, Nicole!).

By the way, the link is actually:

http://hallmarks.thespec.com (no www).

According to MacIntyre, "Here's who opposed the increase: Merulla, Powers, Collins, Whitehead, Duvall, Morelli and Jackson." (Nobrainer was close in his prediction, but miscalled McHattie, Powers, Collins, and Jackson.)

I was very disappointed to see that McHattie supported the fare increase. The city has many options for increasing the transit budget without dumping it on the backs of the poor.

The first order of business for any councillor who claims to support transit is to end area rating, in which different parts of the city pay different amounts toward transit (and some pay nothing at all). As far as I know, Hamilton is the only city in Canada that does this, and it's an absurd throwback to amalgamation that needs to go out the door post haste.

That would raise a lot more money than the fare hike and would open the city to plan its transit system based on what makes sense rather than on arbitrary political boundaries (which justification was central to amalgamation in the first place).

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 28, 2007 at 07:21:52

wow...I'm surprised at that list. not sure what happened to McHattie and Bratina. they could have tipped it the other way.

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By Markwhittle (registered) - website | Posted March 28, 2007 at 07:58:56

The area assessment rating was to appease the suburban vote when Hamilton couldn't get together with the other small towns and forge a future together, so the solution was imposed.

Instead of huge economies of scale savings as the legislation foretold we continue have these bone-headed NIMBY ideological decisions made by certain councilors to "look good" for their constituency's instead of the whole cloth, the fabric of our community.

It's as self-serving as it get's for Hamilton Councilors, unto each his own.

And abolishing this lop-sided accounting of the tax rolls is the right time now that property assessments by MPAC and the Province are suspended.

That way the ones not paying their fair share will only have to make up the shortfall ($5 million) in "social services" for this year and inject some capital expenditures into our flagging public transportation services.

A one-time adjustment like the LSR of amalgamation dulled by Dalton McGuinty freezing our property taxes. And if he is ousted in October, John Tory will cap assessment at no more than 5% per year while reforming MPAC.

So if area rating was abolished tomorrow, under-taxed suburban Hamiltonians will not be hit with outragious property tax bills while at the same time paying their fair share equally, like the rest of us that have been doing by subsidizing their area rating since Amalgamation.

Time to even the playing field, once and for all. Our future depends on it.

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By Lurkalicious (anonymous) | Posted March 28, 2007 at 08:33:54

Holy shit, I just felt the world lurch on its axis - I actually agree with Markwhittle on this!

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 28, 2007 at 09:35:57

I think I do too, although I don't understand half of it. he's right though - area rating has to go. it's ridiculous.

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted March 28, 2007 at 10:43:23

I can't believe Bratina and McHattie voted for the increase. I thought they 'got it'!

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By Markwhittle (registered) - website | Posted March 28, 2007 at 10:50:53

There's more guys.

Hamilton has the same set of "new" taxing powers that the City of Toronto has.

Why aren't they using then to raise their own loot instead of begging the Provice for more of their cut.After all, there is only one tax-payer.

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted March 28, 2007 at 10:58:10

I have an idea. Since council's afraid to take on area-rating, let's start area-rating roads too! I live downtown and don't expect to use the RHVE, so they can area rate that. Let people in Glanbrook and the Crick pay for it. It's only fair, right?

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By King James (anonymous) | Posted March 28, 2007 at 11:18:51

I don't want to read one more word about what an enlightened guy the Mayor is. He's a spineless hypocrite. Supports airport expansion and increased transit fares -thanks Fred

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 28, 2007 at 11:26:29

Nobrainer, that's exactly the kind of us-and-them divisiveness that is preventing this city from moving in a coordinated fashion. I don't necessarily blame you for your frustration - the structure of the amalgamated city all but guarantees it (given that the Harris Tories enacted it, I wouldn't be at all surprised if this is exactly what they intended).

I suspect you're positing your suggestion satirically to show the absurdity of area rating, and your point is well made. But perhaps it's not so far off the mark after all. In the recent Mayor's Survey, most respondents favoured making Red Hill a toll highway. I think this is a great idea, because:

  1. It helps to recoup some of the cost from the people who are using it. Unlike transit, a new highway is not a public good, since it increases pollution, increases sprawl (ask Aldo DeSantis about this one), and drains wealth out of the existing built environment to pay for destroying more rural land and farm land.

  2. It helps to put driving and transit on more of an even footing. People will choose to take transit if it's affordable, faster, and more convenient, but the lion's share of public money goes to roads, not transit.

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By expanding (anonymous) | Posted March 28, 2007 at 12:18:43

King James - Mayor Fred's pretty wimpy, but how does he support airport expansion? When Hemson made their crap presentation to council on opening up the airport lands, he wouldn't accept their recommendations and ordered staff to go back and come up with some alternate scenarios.

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By holdon (anonymous) | Posted March 28, 2007 at 12:20:53

I think we need to look at the bigger picture here folks. Transit is not a low income transportation program, it is a piece of infrastructure needed by any modern city, and as such it needs to be properly maintained. The city has delayed increasing fares for many years now by using gas tax money. This is not what the gas tax was for - it was for expanding transit systems. What is the use of keeping fares low if, at the end of the day, there are more and more people left standing at bus stops because there isn't enough buses to meet demand. Even after this increase, Hamilton has, and will continue to have, one of the lowest fares in the country.

As an aside, if you have guys like Eisenberger, McHattie, and Bratina, all voting for the fare increase, and Merulla, Collins, and Morelli voting against, there is more to this issue than a simple yes or no proposition.

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted March 28, 2007 at 12:30:12

Good point holdon, but transit in Hamilton is structurally underfunded. Jacking up fares when they already pay for 57% of the total cost (in most cities it's around 50%) is dumping too much of the burden on riders. Especially when people living in rich suburbs don't pay anything at all towards supporting transit. That's crap, and as the article states hamilton is the ONLY city to do this.

There was a great article on RTH a week or two ago about how to pay for better transit service without gouging the poor. Damn spam filter won't let me post the link but if you go into the address bar and change the blog_id from 547 to 531 it's there.

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By King James (anonymous) | Posted March 28, 2007 at 12:54:00

Expanding-

The motion to acquire new lands for the airport was defeat at council (or committee?) but Eisenberger voted in favour. He's trying to endear himself to the same people he promised to stand up to.

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By marlene (registered) | Posted March 28, 2007 at 13:05:59

I don't have a problem with fare increase, I get a receipt for it and I can take it off my income tax in which I'll get a refund on. I'm on disability and it's a non-issue

Other cities that have crappier bus service than Hamilton charge more for the service - so what's the problem?

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By highwater (registered) | Posted March 28, 2007 at 13:42:03

I agree with holdon. Guys like Bratina and McHattie wouldn't make such a choice lightly. I would like to know their thinking before making too many assumptions about their characters, or supposed 'agendas'. Also, I don't think it's fair to call Eisenberger a wimp just because he's not a frothing lunatic like Merulla. Frankly, Merulla's behaviour would have been out of line in a bar, let alone council chambers. Name calling and threats are the rhetorical tools of the witless. I fail to see how his behaviour does any good for the disenfranchised constituents he claims to serve.

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted March 28, 2007 at 14:01:45

Marlene - if the feds really wanted to help transit, they would have given the money right to the transit authorities to lower fares. Giving you a tax credit is nice, but it's vote buying, not good policy. If you're too poor, you don't even qualify for the tax credit!

Highwater - just because Merulla's an asshat at council doesn't mean it's wrong to agree with him on the fares. He's right - the increase is going to hurt his constituents, and I sure hope Bratina changes his mind since his constituents are in the same boat.

There's a whole bunch of territory between Merulla going grand mal seizure and Fred going catatonic that I wish these damn councillors would visit some time. Hamilton politics sucks.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 28, 2007 at 14:08:47

holdon wrote, "there is more to this issue than a simple yes or no proposition"

highwater wrote, "Guys like Bratina and McHattie wouldn't make such a choice lightly"

RTH associate editor Adrian Duyzer contacted McHattie to ask about his decision. His summary is posted here:

http://www.raisethehammer.org/blog/550/

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By highwater (registered) | Posted March 28, 2007 at 14:28:43

Thanks for that Adrian and Ryan.

Nobrainer, I wasn't questioning Merulla's position, just his behaviour. His heart may be in the right place, but his behaviour undermines his credibility and sows division, which hurts his ability to work on behalf of his constituents. You're right that there's a healthy middle ground somewhere, maybe it moved to Toronto.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted March 28, 2007 at 14:43:49

Just read the blog on Bratina's vote. It's a perfect example of how Merulla's behaviour harmed his constituents. Of course it wasn't rational of Bratina to base his vote on Merulla's behaviour, but then people don't always react rationally to being verbally abused. Which is why, if you truly want to serve your constituents, it's a good idea to be sane.

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted March 28, 2007 at 14:50:06

Thanks king james. I didn't know that. WHere oh where is Dave Braden when you need him?

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted March 28, 2007 at 15:14:32

Highwater, you're right. Merulla's temper tantrum did no good at all. Instead of helping his case it actually took attention away from transit and focused it on beautifully-coiffed HIM. Anyway, with his support for Red Hill and that bloody box store at center mall, Merulla doesn't actually seem to know what the hell he's doing. He may be left-wing but he sure aint progressive.

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By Concerned (anonymous) | Posted March 28, 2007 at 22:38:39

I am truly embarassed by city council. I cannot beleive that these people draw salaries for this kind of conduct and behaviour.

Shame

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By Marlene (registered) | Posted March 29, 2007 at 11:37:18

NoBrainer

How do you figure that the poor won't qualify for the transit tax break?

I think being able to claim the price of a transit pass on my income tax is a perk to riding transit. I buy the pass for either $65 or $70 - I get a receipt and I submit the passes and the receipts together when I do my income tax. That amount is deducted from whatever other "high" income I have. I consider myself poor since I'm on disability pension and able to pay for the transit because ODSP covers most of it.

The only thing poorer than ODSP is Ontario Works or being downright homeless and sleeping on sidewalk grates. The latter rarely takes the bus because they have no income and OW also covers bus passes or bus tickets.

I'm not sure how you figure that the poor doesn't qualify for a tax break. I think that's some political party's rhetoric that has no factual basis. Have you done your income taxes yet and tried to use the reduction?

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted March 29, 2007 at 12:11:56

It's a non-refundable tax credit. That means it gets deducted from whatever tax you have to pay, but if you don't have to pay any tax, you can't get it as a refund (i.e. you can't get it at all).

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