Transportation

HSR Fare Increase in Context

By Ryan McGreal
Published November 27, 2007

In combination with the fare increase that already took effect this past summer, the additional fare increase passed quickly by Monday night's 2008 budget committee of the whole raises HSR fares by around 15 percent over the beginning of 2007. By contrast, the increase in transit tax is being limited to three percent.

For years, tax funding for the HSR has grown far more slowly than funding for other city services, including roads and traffic, police/fire services and waste management.

Using the provincial gas tax transfer to cover budgetary shortfalls instead of improving service since 2005 has masked just how little the city has invested in transit service improvements in recent years.

Citizens at City Hall (CATCH) has released a preliminary analysis of the fare increase as compared to the city's other option of funding the increase out of taxes:

For a $200,000 home in Hamilton, the difference would be $12 a year [as opposed to $96 a year for a regular HSR user].

The cost to suburban residents would have been about $3 in Ancaster, and $4 in each of Dundas, Stoney Creek and Glanbrook.

Each former municipality pays a unique transit tax rate based on how many miles of HSR service occurs there. Thus an average home in Hamilton this year pays $174 for HSR, while urban residents of Ancaster in the same value home pay $36. The comparable rate in Dundas is $41 and $53 in Stoney Creek.

The CATCH study also looks at the increase in the context of HSR funding trends over the past two decades:

HSR fare prices have risen faster than inflation since the mid-1980s. In 1985, riders paid 90 cents a ride. Inflation would push that to $1.58 in 2007. Most of the increases took place before 1998 - the point at which cash fares hit $2.00 a ride.

The HSR has not been a priority for this city for a very long time. Coupling service improvements with fare increases sends a contradictory message: that the burden or paying should fall almost entirely on riders, when the benefits of a truly progressive transit policy would accrue to the city as a whole.

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 November 27, 2007 at 16:04:04

this has been the same old story since the 1980's and I expect people will be blogging these headlines until the 2080's. Council doesn't get it, and they don't care.

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By Matt A (registered) | Posted November 27, 2007 at 19:10:30

sadly, there is a stigma against taking transit, whereby it is assumed that it is intended to serve the young, the old and the poor. If the system was truly convenient, and truly 'public' (i.e. for and used by everyone), there would be a much greater fight for it's improvement. We need more 'average' people taking transit and fighting for it.

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By beancounter (registered) | Posted November 27, 2007 at 21:40:43

This same old story, as Jason puts it, is very depressing.

So depressing that some people might be tempted to take desperate measures to get the transportation they, and we, need in our large urban areas.

Almost makes you wonder if we shouln't take the whole thing out of the city's hands, doesn't it?

Maybe, just maybe, there is another way. Yes, a desperate step to be sure and one which will not go over well with our city fathers, and mothers... Dare I breathe the word? Hush... Privatization. There, I said it.

But I'm not the only one. Have a look at this article:

http://www.fcpp.org/main/publication_det...

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By beancounter (registered) | Posted November 27, 2007 at 22:57:27

This same old story, as Jason puts it, is very depressing.

So depressing that some people might be tempted to take desperate measures to get the transportation they, and we, need in our large urban areas.

Almost makes you wonder if we shouln't take the whole thing out of the city's hands, doesn't it?

Maybe, just maybe, there is another way. Yes, a desperate step to be sure and one which will not go over well with our city fathers, and mothers... Dare I breathe the word? Hush... Privatization. There, I said it.

But I'm not the only one. Have a look at this article:

http://www.fcpp.org/main/publication_det...

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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted November 28, 2007 at 14:30:16

Privatization is a useful thing if you have a certain necessary factor, dare I say it? Competition. There, I said it.

Ah, duh, beancounter!

Since transit is a natural monopoly, where is the competition? Cars? Roads are largely subsidized by income and dwelling taxes, with a relatively tiny contribution from gas tax by european standards. Market forces cannot work with this degree of subsidy i.e no monetary negative feedback loop to prevent extremely wasteful resource utilization = single occupancy cars.

1 seat / 5 seats = 20% utilization. Do you know of any hotels, warehouses or factories that can economically operate at 20% of capacity?

So when Hamilton has the factors London has, namely massive congestion, tolls, high gas taxes, carpooling lanes, and a dense built environment, then maybe privatized transit could compete with the car. Without these factors, privatization is a recipe for disaster.

If I understood the city presenter correctly at COW, Hamilton has the lowest relative spending on transit in the province. Council's dominant response appeared to be "well done, lets keep it that way"

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By beancounter (registered) | Posted November 29, 2007 at 20:35:57

Ted, if someone had told us twenty years ago, that there would be several telephone companies competing for our business and that long distance charges would go into a steep decline, we would have told him he was crazy.

If he also told us that we would be able to buy electricity and natural gas from several different companies we would have called for the men in white coats.

After all, those were monopoly services which could not operate under market conditions. What, put several different pipelines under the street while stringing multiple wires for electricity and telephone? Preposterous.

Perhaps the London, England model does not apply to a much smaller city like Hamilton, a city without all of the factors that you pointed out in your comments. Perhaps now is not (yet?) the time to try some form of privatization, or perhaps a 3P application.

I submitted the article from Lawrence Solomon in order to start a discussion on how we might be able to use some variant of what was done in London to our situation in Hamilton, if not now, perhaps in the future.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted November 30, 2007 at 08:28:41

Beancounter,

There's a difference with the utilities you mentioned: for telephone service, most of the "competition" due to a CRTC ruling that required the incumbent local exchange carrier (Bell) to lease trunk lines at bulk rates to phone service resellers.

Granted, there is some authentic competition in that cable companies are now offering voice over IP service across their cable networks (and likewise, the phone companies are now offering TV over their phone networks), plus some 'pure' VOIP services like Skype.

Similarly with electricity and NG, various providers feed energy into a single distributor - the company managing the distribution network. You buy your energy from one of the companies (say, Bullfrog Power) but you actually get it from the same physical infrastructure.

Could something like this work for transit? It's hard to say. I'm getting to the point where I no longer have any confidence that Council will do the right thing for transit.

Before going to competition, I'd rather try something that has worked for many other cities: turning the HSR into an independent transit authority.

Right now, the HSR is an office of the Department of Public Works. Don Hull, the HSR director, reports to Scott Stewart, the general manager of Public Works. What they do is ostensibly micromanaged by Council, except that Council mostly just does what Public Works staff recommend; and staff, in turn, mostly recommend what they think Council will approve.

So it's a vicious circle of banality that has resulted in a medium sized city with a small-town, bus only transit system and very little institutional support.

If the HSR was made into an arms-length commission, it could lobby Council properly instead of having to go through Public Works (and having any innovative ideas killed in transit), and it could run the system based on the guidance of people who understand transit instead of based on what a gaggle of ward councillors, with their own parochial interests, can agree on.

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By beancounter (registered) | Posted December 01, 2007 at 00:09:15

Turning the HSR into a separate legal entity would certainly be a step in the right direction. I especially like your comment, Ryan, that the system could then be run by people who understand transit instead of by politicians with their own more localized interest.

I would suggest then that this commission not be chaired by a politician in the style, say, of Howard Moscoe at the TTC.

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