Broad-Based Transit Support Gains Momentum

By Jason Leach
Published April 11, 2007

A varied group of local educators, businesspeople, citizens and others, from the Labour Council to the Chamber of Commerce have joined forces around a letter prepared by the Hamilton Civic Coalition urging Hamilton city council to reverse its recent decision to hike HSR fares.

No longer can city council try to brush off transportation advocates as 'nutty activists with no jobs'.

In 2007, virtually anyone who understands the very basics of building a proper, successful city knows how vital transit is to the equation.

Let's all urge council to do the right thing and continue to grow the HSR, not treat it like frill or social service.

Of course, while we're at it, let's also urge the hiring of a staff member to work in the cycling office and begin to spend the cycling money on long-stalled but already funded projects we desperately need in Hamilton.

Jason Leach was born and raised in the Hammer and currently lives downtown with his wife and children. You can follow him on twitter.


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By Anonymous (anonymous) | Posted April 11, 2007 at 22:58:40

Everytime the issue of a fare increase is discussed in this City, the argument against raising them goes back to the City's most vulnerable. Little wonder transit is regarded as a social service. What a stigma, probably why more people don't use it. Look at TO, the TTC services all people rich and vulnerable. Best transit authority in North America with the best operating cost recovery.

Fuel prices have gone up, equipment prices have gone up, wages and benefits have gone up as well. Fares have remained the same since 2003.....4 years!! I think a small increase is warranted. It's common sense. User pay, user pay.

Big surprise, small business wants to keep the fares the same. No reason to pay their minimum wage employees anything more. Taxpayers subsidizing business so that they may maintain and increase their profits.

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 12, 2007 at 07:32:51

I usually don't reply to anonymous postings, but here is a quote:

Fuel prices have gone up, equipment prices have gone up, wages and benefits have gone up as well. Fares have remained the same since 2003.....4 years!! I think a small increase is warranted. It's common sense. User pay, user pay.

Then why do we still have absolutely no user pay system for our roads?? Maybe we should focus on catching the road/highway user pay percentage to the same level of the HSR - roughly 45% last time I checked.

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By Concerned (anonymous) | Posted April 12, 2007 at 10:42:35

Actually Jason, road ways are supported by property and income taxes and surcharges on fuel. Which we all pay. It costs more to travel the same distance by personal vehicle than by bus. Maybe transit would be used more in the City if service was better. To do that, money is required. It's not rocket science here.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted April 12, 2007 at 12:03:47

"road ways are supported by property and income taxes and surcharges on fuel. Which we all pay."

That's exactly the problem. We all pay for the roads. We pay for a clover leaf at Clappison's and an expressway through the Red Hill Valley even if we live downtown and don't own a car. Should not the residents of Waterdown pay more in their property tax in order to cover the upgrades to Highway 6? I pay more in my property taxes in order to cover the transit service in my area despite the fact that I ride my bike everywhere rain or shine.

So actually, we do NOT have a user-pay system for roads. We have an everybody-pay system. Why not apply everybody-pay to transit? I'm all for the user-pay system if it gets applied fairly to all services...

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By Anonymous (anonymous) | Posted April 12, 2007 at 12:57:09

Buses travel on roads which everyone pays for. Your bike travels on roads. Everything you purchase travels by road. People who drive cars pay for gas which is taxed to pay for public transit. All I'm saying is what's the big deal to raise transit fares a few bucks for passes and a few cents for single rides. Everything else rises why not transit fares?

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted April 12, 2007 at 13:35:00

I don't want to get into a big argument here, but single occupancy car travel is heavily subsidized -- more heavily than any other type of transportation. We all pay for that subsidization no matter what our usage of the road network is.

Yes, my bike travels on roads. However the damage the my bike does to a stretch of road in a lifetime is likely to be less than that done by an SUV in a year. On top of that, the distance travelled by me on my bike in my lifetime is less than that travelled by a motorist in his.

I know that everything I purchase travels (at least partly) by road. However I also know that retail prices include significant markups which go (in part) to the cost of transporting the goods.

The reason fares should not go up is because the situation is already horribly imbalanced. If public subsidization of all transportation services was first balanced out, THEN I would be all for a regular increase across the board (gas tax, transit fares, property tax on rail lines, etc) -- as long as it is applied equally. I think we'd find that if it WAS balanced out though, very few of us would be able to afford to drive.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted April 12, 2007 at 14:26:28

There's another subsidy in addition to the fact that motorists are by far the heaviest road users per capita and the total money collected from drivers is nowhere near enough to pay for all the roads: mandatory "free" parking requirements.

The law requires that anyone building anything in the city (other than a few zones right downtown) has to provide "free" parking based on the type of building use and the floor space. For commercial buildings, the parking usually takes up more surface area than the store itself.

By law, nearly every destination you visit has available parking spots waiting for should you choose to drive (and there's no question that you are more likely to choose to drive if there's a spot waiting for you when you get there).

The "free" parking incentive is biggest for the shortest trips, since in those cases the real cost of parking is the highest share of the total cost of the trip. In other words, "free" parking provides the biggest incentive to drive on the trips that are otherwise the most easy to make without a car.

UCLA economist Donald Shoup has calculated that the total cost of parking in the US exceeds the total cost of cars any may even exceed the total cost of roads and highways. Somebody's paying for those spots, but it's not the people driving their cars and parking in them.

Every time you walk, cycle or take the bus to a store with "free" parking, you're helping to subsidize the people who choose to drive there.

Worse, since the levies developers pay to build houses and stores on greenfields are not enough to cover what the city pays to service the land, you're also helping to subsidize all that "free" parking - including driveways in front of houses - when you pay your property tax, even if you live downtown and are less likely to own a car - or are more likely to own a small, fuel efficient car than a large, gas-guzzling one.

One more thing: since "free" parking requirements push up the cost of making a building, they intrinsically favour big, warehouse-sized stores that can enjoy economies of scale rather than smaller buildings that can be integrated into a neighbourhood. The only way to make affordable small shops is in strip plazas with abundant "free" parking out front, which destroy the street wall, reduce utility for people walking or taking the bus, and tend to favour corporate chains that can afford higher rents to pay for all the parking.

Similarly, if you want to build a condo, the cost of adding mandatory parking spots for each unit push up both the size and the cost of making the building so that medium-sized buildings - say, on the order of five or six stories - that are integrated into their surroundings are no longer possible. There's just no room and no way to make it affordable after adding the parking lot.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted April 12, 2007 at 15:54:22

Excellent points... I was just out foraging for backup data (including "the high cost of free parking") but you beat me to that one so I won't stress it.

Here are some more quick summaries that help to illustrate the reality of this subsidy imbalance"

  1. "The Automobile Subsidy" ( ) Read this first as it's the most concise summary of the issues that I could find. It points out (among other things) that if gas tax alone were to provide for all direct automobile costs, it would have to be $3.50/gallon. If it were to also provide for pollution costs and emergency medical care, it would have to be $9 per gallon! My favorite quote is as follows: "This predisposition toward automobile use is plainly evident in the prevalent terminology: money spent on roads is called 'highway investment', while money spent on rails is called 'transit subsidy'".

  2. The social costs of driving ( ) Here is a more in-depth report regarding the true costs of propping up the car-centric culture: "The basic finding of this report is that the social costs of driving amount to at least $184 billion per year -- not including the $50 to $100 billion subsidy in free parking and or the cross-subsidy caused by congestion."

  3. "The Real Price of Gasoline" ( -- pdf link ) If you really want to get into the nitty gritty, take a look at this report which calculates that the actual cost of a gallon of gas could be as high as $15.14 (taking into account all government subsidies of the oil industry in general).

  4. "The High Cost of Free Parking" As outlined by Ryan above. Here is a great 4-part writeup of the book (as found in the New York/New Jersey/Connecticut transportation campaign bulletin):

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted April 12, 2007 at 16:01:09

I forgot to mention this collection of facts and figures by Ivan Illich. It's quite fun to read, and a bit lighter than these others.

Among other things, It takes an interesting stance of calculating the amount of time a person spends earning money to pay for a car, then incorporates that into the distance travelled to come up with a true "speed":

"The model American male devotes more than 1,600 hours a year to his car. He sits in it while it goes and while it stands idling. He parks it and searches for it. He earns the money to put down on it and to meet the monthly installments. He works to pay for gasoline, tolls, insurance, taxes, and tickets. He spends four of his sixteen waking hours on the road or gathering his resources for it. And this figure does not take into account the time consumed by other activities dictated by transport: time spent in hospitals, traffic courts, and garages; time spent watching automobile commercials or attending consumer education meetings to improve the quality of the next buy. ... The model American puts in 1,600 hours to get 7,500 miles: less than five miles per hour."

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By zanis_e_v (registered) | Posted April 14, 2007 at 00:52:24

Here here to seancd, ryan, jason for pointing out the subsidies to the personal automobile. Couldn't agree more. Just a question though: why is mass transit still a public monopoly in Canada? I ride transit, bike a lot (recumbent even), and do not own a car. However the TTC often, perhaps usually, makes my blood boil. It has just such terrible service, is poorly run and inconvenient, and it's drab and soul destroying. From what I can understand, public monopolies of mass transit are legacies of the streetcar - a 'natural' monopoly (and yes, I like those too). But with the advent of buses, shuttle buses, vans, cabs etc., this does not apply. The barriers to entry are really low, so it would be difficult to monopolize - even with streetcars and subways. Hey, keep publicly run, subsidized transit companies - just allow other companies to run also. I'm in the bracket where I really wouldn't mind paying a bit more to get an express shuttle to where I commute. This happens to be a major transit hub - York U, but using the TTC takes - I kid you not - 85 minutes one-way from western downtown. By cab, 30 minutes: I've had to do that (60+ by bike). SO, I feel that the original anonymous posting hints at the answer to my initial question ("transit is regarded as a social service"). Mass transit is still a public monopoly because it is considered to be a social service. And being managed as such, you don't get good transit service.

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By zanis_e_v (registered) | Posted April 14, 2007 at 01:01:28

Oh, and here's a link to my proposal to start a Transit Users' Co-op (based loosely on the CAA):

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By Bus Boy (anonymous) | Posted April 16, 2007 at 13:05:17

But "Anonymous" has a point- and that's public perception. The public perception that public transit is a low-class, subsidized form of transportation does not help to increase its use.

I don't take the bus a lot, but I enjoy it immensely when I do. People often talk to me on the bus. It's a bit like going to a bar. I get to hear ideas and opinions I wouldn't otherwise. Very interesting.

Of course I don't have to interact if I don't want to. On longer trips I take a book or the newspaper and arrive refreshed, ready to do a day's work. Much better than bumper to bumper nail-chewing.

On the bus or train I get to look around, see what's new in the areas I'm driven through. While I don't wish a hardship on my fellow travellers, I personally wouldn't mind paying a little more for the convenience of public transit.

As cartoonist Ben Wicks used to say when he shilled for the TTC: "It's clarss to be driven."

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