Transportation

Eisenberger: Transit Needs New Investment, Area Rating too Divisive to Change

By Ryan McGreal
Published March 29, 2007

(This blog entry has been updated)

Mayor Fred Eisenberger defended his vote in favour of the transit increase in an email to Raise the Hammer.

Calling the decision "not an easy issue", Eisenberger pointed out that Hamilton has among the lowest transit fares in Canada and that the city has underinvested in transit for years.

I firmly believe that in order to bring transit to the next level in Hamilton, we need to invest. Part of that investment will come from this reasonable fare increase, part from gas tax revenues, and in the future, part will come from provincial and federal infrastructure money so that we can finally create a rapid transit system worthy of our city.

He acknowledged that fare prices are correlated with ridership, but argued that the staff report predicting a 550,000 drop was "calculated in isolation of other factors."

He claimed that the combination of service increases and a growing population will offset some or all of the reduction in ridership. "[O]ur transit officials stated that the short-term impact on ridership will be substantially less and could end up being zero."

The following charts, provided by the HSR, plot the correlation between transit ridership against fare prices; and transit ridership against service hours. Eisenberger pointed out the ridership correlates positively against both.

HSR Ridership v. Fare Prices

HSR Ridership v. Ticket Prices, 1992-2006 (Source: HSR). Click on the Image to view larger in a popup window
HSR Ridership v. Fare Prices, 1992-2006 (Source: HSR). Click on the Image to view larger in a popup window

HSR Ridership v. Service Hours

HSR Ridership v. Service Hours, 1992-2006 (Source: HSR). Click on the Image to view larger in a popup window
HSR Ridership v. Service Hours, 1992-2006 (Source: HSR). Click on the Image to view larger in a popup window

Eisenberger also argued that city staff in social services "are preparing a program that will help mitigate the fare increase through a system based on the 'ability to pay'."

He cited the approval for installing bike racks on the buses and the creation of a rapid transit office, concluding that "Hamilton is laying the ground work for more investment in the years to come."

I asked the mayor if he would support eliminating area rating, in which in which residents contribute different rates toward transit based on where in the city they live (some ratepayers contribute nothing).

He replied that he "views the area rating system as a very divisive issue" and does not favour "opening that debate at this time."

I also pointed out that roads and traffic spending has grown much more quickly than transit spending since 2000 and asked the Mayor whether he supports investing less in roads and more in transit.

He replid that he supports the Transportation Master Plan, which "places a much greater emphasis on transit than in the past and identifies corridors for a bus rapid transit system."

He also noted he does not support building new roads, but supports spending money to maintain existing roads. "[P]rioritizing investment in parts of the road network that act as major transit corridors is a way to provide transit benefits from the roads budget."

However, according to a recent analysis by Citizens at City Hall, the Transportation Master Plan still allocates most of the dollars to road expansion and modification, including an "access facility" between the Red Hill Expressway and the airport.

The plan calls for doubling spending on bus purchases from the current $10 million a year to an average of $20 million a year, while road spending is projected to climb from $40 million to up to $70 million a year.

Update: This article originally quoted from Paul Shaker, who works in the Mayor's office. In fact, Shaker was forwarding the Mayor's comments. Raise the Hammer regrets the error. -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 29, 2007 at 11:26:21

so, area rating is too divisive to open for debate eh? What's so divisive or unfair about asking people in the suburbs to pay their fair share?? heaven forbid we all get treated equally. Perhaps things wouldn't be so divisive in Hamilton if there wasnt' a clear heirarchy which favours folks in the outlying areas over city residents. If he wants to keep area rating then let's do it properly. All urban residents who don't own a car should instantly be refunded the portion of their taxes that pays for roads. I would gladly take 50% of that refund and have it put towards transit/cycling initiatives and pocket the other 50%. Let's see how divisive things get when the suburban communities are forced to pay the costs of their own sprawl.

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By jesseTheBody (anonymous) | Posted March 29, 2007 at 14:38:05

So the fare hike is going to cut half a million rides but that's okay because improving service is going to cancel most of that?

Does that mean if we *don't* raise fares but still improve service, ridership will actually increase?

Isn't that the city's goal? Increasing ridership?

What's more divisive, getting rid of area rating and becoming like every other city in canada or actually going against the city's goals?

I loved the editorial in today's speculator with all the usual 'awwww poor council there's no right answer'. Of course no one at the spec is talking about area rating (boooring, makes advertisers wring theri hands). I wonder how many spec editors take the bus to work.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 29, 2007 at 15:06:36

I had a similar thought when I read that, jesse. Hamilton seems destined to keep framing politically tricky issues in either/or terms: in this case, either we raise transit fares or we suffer service reduction.

Of course, the hallmark (no pun intended, Nicole) of politics at its best is the imagination and political will to create both/and solutions to these problems. So far that's not much in evidence in this council.

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By Hammertonian (anonymous) | Posted March 29, 2007 at 21:12:05

'So far that's not much in evidence in this council.'

Your too polite.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 29, 2007 at 21:18:06

so far this council reminds me of all the other ones who have held power since the 70's. It stinks!

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