Transportation

Council: Defer the HSR Fare Hike

By Ryan McGreal
Published November 28, 2007

Dear Mayor Eisenberger and City Council,

Please defer a decision on whether to increase fares at tonight's Council meeting.

The proposal to increase fares is highly controversial and deserves a thorough hearing with a full discussion of possible alternatives instead of being rushed through the transit Committee of the Whole and Council in just two days.

The Transportation Master Plan commits Hamilton to increasing ridership to 100 trips per capita by 2020. However, there is no strategy to achieve this goal; and a fare increase is directly counterproductive, whatever other modest countervailing measures may accompany it.

I understand Council does not want to grow the HSR tax levy by more than three percent this year. However, it's important to understand that after years of growing HSR spending much more slowly than other service budgets (and actually reducing spending some years), the baseline funding is already at a significant deficit compared to where we would be if HSR funding had kept pace.

The result is that ridership is still way down from its height of 30 million rides a year in the late 1980s, despite modest ridership gains in more recent years. This strongly suggests that latent demand for transit is enormous, a sentiment with which Public Works seems to agree in principle.

In fact, the addition in recent years of gas tax transfers from higher levels of government has helped to mask the chronic shortchanging of the HSR by using those transfers to cover operating expenses rather than their objective of improving service.

Council and Public Works staff must recognize that transit is an investment in a healthier and more productive city, not merely a cost centre to be minimized.

This conceptual shift can start with a decision tonight to defer the fare increase and explore ways to grow ridership significantly in keeping with the city's Transportation Master Plan.

Sincerely,

Ryan McGreal
Editor, Raise the Hammer
http://www.raisethehammer.org/

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 anonymous (anonymous) | Posted November 28, 2007 at 14:08:17

I support the rate hike. We need service improvements now. We need to pay bus drivers now.

However, an increase in the HSR's tax levy is the obvious long term choice. Continue to press for this as we move forward.

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By Anonysquirrel (anonymous) | Posted November 28, 2007 at 14:29:06

Anonymous, raising the transit levy to raise the same amount of money as the fare increase would cost $12 per year for a $200,000 house in Hamilton, and $3 or $4 per year for a $200,000 house in the suburbs (which pay a lower area rated transit levy).

The only difference between the two options, other than the fact that raising fares will slow ridership growth (in the city's rosy assessment), is that raising fares will offend fewer voters than raising levies.

It's the lazy way out for councillors who keep demonstrating that they would rather make the expedient choice than the right choice.

Longer term, council needs to end area rating. That would put another $8 million a year into transit.

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By luba (anonymous) | Posted November 28, 2007 at 17:19:44

Ryan, you are such a wuss. For you and your left leaning ilk, avoiding a decision is always preferred to taking a stand. why don't you have the courage of your convictions and just tell Council NOT to raise the fares. By asking them to delay, you are taking the softer approach. What you don't want to offend the Mayor? Stand up for what you believe and don't pussyfoot.
By the way, I support the increase.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 28, 2007 at 17:43:06

luba - I take the opposite position and don't support the fare increase. However, folks with your view definitely need to make your voice heard when the debate turns to tolls on local highways. If it's fair for transit users, it's fair for highway users.

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By anony (anonymous) | Posted November 28, 2007 at 21:05:10

Tolls for a highway are a good idea. Tolls for public transit are a good idea too.

The HSR needs money. They should be able to raise bus fares. Why not charge those who use it?

That some transit users to don't earn a wage decent enough to allow them to share the burden of transit costs is NOT an issue the HSR should alter its policies over. Perhaps society should focus on bringing these people up to a livable wage.

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By g. (anonymous) | Posted November 29, 2007 at 01:07:22

a different way of looking at the transit problem is that the HSR is in the business of selling bus rides. as such if they want to sell more trips, it is contrary to reason to increase the cost. if an airline is losing money and has lots of empty planes it doesn't increase the cost, it has a seat sale. if a grocery store isn't selling many peppers they lower the price.

does anyone have the numbers on the current capacity of the entire HSR system in terms of a percentage being utilized on a daily basis? the airlines keep track of what percentage of seats they sell, does the HSR?
There are huge economies of scale involved in public transit. the cost of owning and operating a bus on a route that services 100 people a day as opposed to 1000 a day, that is perhaps 4 people on a bus as opposed to 40 are, aside from fuel, relatively similar. thus, to a certain threshold, which is where the capacity numbers come in, the cheaper the transit fare, the more people who buy transit, the cheaper transit can be. for some transit is a necessity but for many others it is a choice, be it based on economics, convenience or ethics, and the higher the price of a bus ride the further they will look towards alternatives.

By the way, i support a cap on the police buget to pay for transit fare reductions. they seem to be the only ones who can get buget increases regularly and without justification.

if anyone has the numbers about HSR capacity and could post them to this site i am sure it would be interesting reading for many.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted November 29, 2007 at 08:27:19

Luba, making good decisions takes time. It takes time to explore alternatives, consider total costs and consequences, and so on. For a Council ready to vote on a plan announced two days previously, the first step toward making a good decision is to hold off on making a bad decision until they've had time to hear from the public and consider their options.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 29, 2007 at 08:42:02

that's the way things work in Hamilton. If you want to railroad something through without giving the public a chance to weigh in on it, you unveil the plan 2 days before the meeting. Even with such a short turnaround the vote got closer as some councilors realized how stupid this move was. A mother with 2 kids will be forking out an extra $250.00 next year for bus passes. Yet the entire fare increase could have been covered for between $4.00-$14.00 per household (depending on which ward you live in. The wealthier wards pay less). There was much to be disturbed about if you saw the debate.
It finally hit me last night -this council isn't taking us anywhere quickly. Same old story as every other group.

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted November 29, 2007 at 09:11:35

Crap council. Bloody crap council and their heads always in the sand. Why do we even bother having master plans, growth strategies and planning documents if we're just going to ignore them every time it comes time to make a decision??

Pathetic. Just pathetic.

/shakes head in disgust/

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