Transportation

Upcoming Transit Budget Meeting: Possible Fare Increase?

By Ryan McGreal
Published November 16, 2007

A planned Committee of the Whole (COW) meeting on November 26 will be dedicated to the 2008 transit budget. It looks like city staff may recommend transit fare increases for 2008 coupled with service improvements.

When he addressed the Transit Steering Committee meeting on November 8, HSR director Don Hull said it was "probably not appropriate" to go into detail about the staff proposal before presenting it to the councillors, but added (transcript courtesy Citizens at City Hall):

[Y]ou felt that service enhancements going into the future should as well be funded, if in fact council does, has considered fare increases, that a portion of the fare increase would go towards funding for service enhancements. So if we understood you correctly, so we have put together what were calling a bundled budget for consideration of committee of the whole on November 26. It's a unique approach that hasn't been done before which essentially bundles a budget for the transit program that meets council's 3 percent mandate, that includes what we will consider a reasonable fare increase that will be consistent with those things being considered at the next COW meeting, and includes specific service enhancements requests for 2008 and priorities for 2009. [emphasis added]

It is astonishing, in light of the very strong inverse correlation between fares and ridership, that city staff continues to recommend fare increases (and to call this "reasonable") when the city is supposed to be committed to the goal of increasing ridership.

Quite simply, higher fares means fewer riders. It means more driving, more smog, more greenhouse gas emissions, and fewer transportation choices for low-income residents, who make up a fifth of Hamilton's population.

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 peter (anonymous) | Posted November 16, 2007 at 14:35:57

stupid is as stupid does.

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By Brendan (registered) | Posted November 17, 2007 at 13:55:24

I'm not opposed to this. Every year money is worth about 2% less due to inflation. So in real dollars, transit users -have- been getting reduced fees. A regular fee increase doesn't sound so bad when you consider the alternative - spending more and more of transit's tax share on regular expenses, and less and less on service improvements. For example, a huge chunk of the province's gas tax money, which was supposed to fund service expansion, is now budgeted in perpetuity to cover the shortfall from -not- increasing fares in 2006.

At some point, we have to make a decision. Do we want to run a low-cost transit system which everyone can take, but no one wants to because the service sucks, or do we want to spend a little more (Toronto fares are 50c higher than ours) so that we can run a system good enough to convince people out of their cars?

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By Tecumseh (registered) | Posted November 17, 2007 at 17:54:01

I agree with Brendan. I don't drive a car (by choice) and take the bus or walk everywhere. I'm outspoken about my reasons (environmental and otherwise), but whenever I try to convince people to use transit more often instead of driving I never hear cost as a reason that they won't. It is almost always poor service.

People won't wait an hour for a bus even if it's free. Try getting to Dundas from anywhere in Hamilton at mid-day or the late evening (i.e. not rush hour). Try getting even to the east mountain from downtown on a Sunday night! You'll wait up to an hour. If people could count on having routes that would take them where they needed to go, without too long of a wait, and without worrying that they'll miss their connecting bus and have to wait an extra half hour (and miss their appointment or be late for work), they'd use transit. But as it stands, this is not the case, and the stress and hassle is not worth any price.

While I understand that for people already using transit an increased price might make them look elsewhere for transportation (perhaps convincing them that it's time to buy a car), I don't believe that the converse is true: namely that a reduced price will suddenly convince significant numbers of car-drivers to start using transit - it's much easier to convince someone to _stop_ using the bus than to _start_! Improved service is a prerequisite to increased ridership.

That being said, however, one must ask, do improved service and reduced (or at least stable) fares have to be mutually exclusive? More routes and more frequent service would require upfront capital costs and increased operating costs, but perhaps after a time the increased revenues from increased ridership would make it worth it. It would only take an act of faith and commitment on the part of the city. After all, the city demonstrated considerable faith in a highway by sinking hundreds of millions into Red Hill, with no guarantee of increased tax revenue! Couldn't it demonstrate a similar faith in transit (and it's citizens' desire for cleaner air, etc) by similarly investing in transit? It's a bit of a chicken and egg problem - no improved service until there's more revenue, but no more riders until there's improved service! - so at some point the city must take the plunge and invest. This, for me (and no doubt for most RTH readers), would be the preferred way of going about things.

However, in the absence of outright large-scale investment as an option being seriously considered by council at the moment, and given that the city has indeed been treating service improvements and keeping fares steady as mutually exclusive options, I as a transit user would support increased fares if it meant a proportional improvement in service, for the reasons I've stated above, in addition to Brendan's well-articulated reasons.

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By joejoe (anonymous) | Posted November 17, 2007 at 18:35:54

The pittance we'll get from increased fares won't improve service. The service will stay the same and ridership will go down.

You are right about the root of this problem - there is no committment to invest in transit. I would love to see a free transit system with superior service. Can you imagine that? Even in Europe this is not done.

People will argue we can't afford it but how many tax dollars go to funding our 'free' highways? In the end it's a matter of choice and right now we choose the car.

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