Transportation

Fare Increase Vote: Transit Ridership Loses Out

By Ryan McGreal
Published November 27, 2007

At last night's Committee of the Whole (COW) on the 2008 HSR budget, councillors voted to implement the staff proposal to increase transit fares. The supporters justified the fare increase because it was coupled with service improvments: new peak use service on Rymal Rd. and in Waterdown, and restored service on the Victoria/Wentworth loop.

Only four councillors - Brian McHattie, Bob Bratina, Sam Merulla and Chad Collins - voted against the increase.

The proposal from Public Works did not include projections on how the fare increases will affect ridership, but staff answered this question at the meeting indicating that ridership would grow by 0.5 to 1.5 percent next year, due partly to the service expansions.

Hamilton's Transportation Master Plan has set a goal of 100 transit trips per capita by 2020, but staff have produced no strategy for reaching this target.

Needless to say, 0.5 to 1.5 percent ridership growth barely keeps up with population growth, let alone increasing the rate of transit use. The Councillors who voted to accept this plan have effectively acknowledged that real transit ridership growth is not a priority for the city.

With urban transit ridership growing by an average of 5.3 percent in the past year across Canadian cities, Hamilton's acceptance of such a modest target is particularly galling.

With the reality of climate change pressing down and the risk of skyrocketing energy prices growing more credible by the day, it's truly astonishing that so many Councillors fail to see the benefit - or the necessity - of investing more in transit instead of offloading cost increases on the provincial gas tax and directly on riders.

The business as usual of seeing roads and highways as "investments" but transit as a "subsidy" has produced perennial deficits, crumbling infrastructure, high rates of poverty, and zero assessment growth projected for 2008 (so much for economic development). How many more times do we need to keep doing the same thing over and over and expecting the outcome to change?

What will it take for this Council to start taking seriously the job of running this city sustainably?

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 race_to_the_bottom (anonymous) | Posted November 27, 2007 at 12:20:27

I was at the meeting. The councillors were persuaded that Hamilton is just following the lead of other cities that have raised fares. I can already imagine the councils of those other cities making the same justifications for their fare increases in a closed loop of mediocrity.

Like a bewildered herd all spooking at the same time, we continue to rush toward the cliff.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 27, 2007 at 16:05:58

give me a transit system like Toronto's and I'd happily support a fare increase. Same with K-W, which is building LRT....Expect a lot more of this now that we've got hundreds of more km of suburban roadway to maintain each year....and that number will continue to grow year after year.

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By matt (anonymous) | Posted November 27, 2007 at 16:06:00

What staff department recommended the fare increase?

Seems like a necessary part of the solution is to call for a complete restaffing. You know, maybe bring them into some sense of reality for people who live downtown and ride the bus. (Or maybe make it so that the people who get to make decisions about transit are required to actually use it.)

It's also completely absurd that the HSR would make ANY statements about ridership, when they don't track it at all. Nearly all the fareboxes are broken and not only do they not keep track of student/senior passes, but some drivers refuse to look at people loading on buses at Mac and instead stare forcefully out the window. Really makes me feel good about being there..

So, between rude drivers (some, certainly not all), increasing fares (again), a lack of vision by city staff and lack of courage by council (to stand up to staff), and (from where I stand - there are no seats on most of the buses I take) a noticeable decline in service, guess I should buy a car. Oh wait, I can't afford one and honestly don't believe in them for in-city personal transportation. Guess I should just move instead. I certainly don't feel wanted in this city. To bad, I used to really like it here.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted November 27, 2007 at 16:47:18

This is sad. I feel despondent. I don't even have the energy to post a real comment. I'll only say that I wish there was a way to decouple the RHVP from my taxes and charge $2.35 per ride directly to the users.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted November 27, 2007 at 21:16:10

Matt - it's the Public Works Department, which operates the HSR. In their defence, they were instructed by Council to hold the transit levy increase to 3%.

Seancb - there is a way: it's called a toll booth.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted November 29, 2007 at 10:01:07

The HSR just signed a new labour contract with the drivers, now they are raising fares. Do you all not think that there is some connection here?

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By Bob Bratina (anonymous) | Posted December 01, 2007 at 16:45:42

You failed to mention my motion at Council to reduce the fare to 2 dollars as part of a two year pilot program to see if indeed ridership increases, which is what we should all be working toward. Although my motion was withdrawn due to the inability of some councillors to understand the idea, the work will continue. I received a commitment from transit staff on Thursday, the day after the unfortunate Council meeting, to survey communities where transit fares have been reduced and see what effect it had on ridership. If the review indicates a positive result in terms of increased ridership, then I will bring forward the proposal again to REDUCE fares. You may also be interested in the Downtown Transit Terminal matter. Staff wants to build a 12 to 15 million dollar terminal beside the Piggott Building. I am proposing an alternative hybrid approach using the current McNab Street facility and the GO Station on Hunter Street. This would get the buses off the Gore as well, at amuch less cost.. perhaps a million or 2. This would free up $10 million dollars earmarked for the Piggott terminal to be used for.........can you think of a good use for $10 million? How about the beginnings of a light rail system? As a member of the GO Transit board I also received a commitment from the CEO to work for more GO train service to Hamilton at James Street North, and invite VIA to use the facilities, platform, ticketing, etc., to reinstate VIA service to Hamilton. You may be aware of the $3 million dollars allocated to that project by the GTTA, based on our submission to them.
Bob Bratina,
Councillor, Ward 2.

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