On Roads and Transit, Hamilton Spending Priorities on Display

By Nicholas Kevlahan
Published April 08, 2013

The recent reports on the poor growth in transit in Hamilton compared with other cities, in particular this CBC Hamilton article, are not surprising given how little we spend and the resulting poor level of service:

Transit Spending by City
City Service Area Population Square Kilometres Gross Expenses Active Fleet Riders Per Capita Service Hours Per Capita
Winnipeg 657,000 222 $138M 545 72 2.00
Victoria 360,000 614 $92M 280 69 2.21
Quebec City 563,000 548 $181M 597 79 2.02
Hamilton 480,000 235 $72M 217 45 1.43

We are dead last in every single category apart from service area, mostly by a very large margin. (Also, why is it that we do not even serve 8 percent of the population, while the other cities seem to serve almost their entire population?)

Note that the City of Hamilton itself actually spends only $26.5 million of its own money on transit, or about 37% of the total. The balance comes from gas taxes and the fare box.

But maybe it is just because Hamilton is short of money, so let's compare Hamilton and Winnipeg's road budget for 2013:

So Hamilton spends 60% more on roads than Winnipeg and 80% less on transit. This really illustrates our priorities!

Nicholas Kevlahan was born and raised in Vancouver, and then spent eight years in England and France before returning to Canada in 1998. He has been a Hamiltonian since then, and is a strong believer in the potential of this city. Although he spends most of his time as a mathematician, he is also a passionate amateur urbanist and a fan of good design. You can often spot him strolling the streets of the downtown, shopping at the Market. Nicholas is the spokesperson for Hamilton Light Rail.


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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted April 08, 2013 at 20:03:04

"Also, why is it that we do not even serve 8 percent of the population, while the other cities seem to serve almost their entire population?)"

Hamilton's Service Area is listed above at 235 square km. Wikipedia puts Hamilton's urban area at just under 228 square km but the city's total area is about 900 square km larger than that. It is demonstrably easier to offer efficient public transit in high-density residential neighbourhoods than in exurban or rural areas.(Faced with the HSR's budget pressures, should the agency's emphasis be on equal distribution of service to Hamilton's entire population, with the attendant elevation of operating costs and risk to revenues, or does it make more sense to increase service on lines that are regularly at capacity?)

Those rural areas may also alsofactor into road maintenance budgets, since rural roads are considerably more expensive to maintain than paved surfaces, which are more resistant to elemental wear-and-tear and which have become systematized to a large extent.

Having said that, IMHO the HSR needs more money all around -- more at the farebox, a bigger share of dedicated gas tax revenue, and real support from City Council.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted April 09, 2013 at 18:13:39 in reply to Comment 87743

I may be misinterpreting you, but it sounds like you are saying have to choose between a) not expanding service and b) providing equal transit access to Freelton as we do to Westdale. I think its important to recognize that if the entire urban area is not well served, there is a large set of riders that you are missing out on because the transit system is not comprehensive enough for them to justify not owning a car, and if they own a car, the marginal cost of also buying transit tickets is too high.

For example, I grew up living in downtown Burlington (close to Central Library), a town that is known for having a pathetic transit system. My house was literally a 4 minute drive from the Burlington GO transit station, but it took me 20 minutes to get there on the city bus, and many other places I might have wanted to take the bus would be >1hr on transit when you could get there in 20 minutes by car. With a system like that, you don't take the bus unless you have no other options.

I think part of the problem is that although the main routes may be amply serviced, the majority of trips are not exclusively from one point on the main route to another point on the main route - if you have to walk 20 minutes to catch your bus, and then after you get off the bus walk another 10 minutes, its not an ideal solution. When investing in more lines and reducing the number of transfers needed and additional effort required to use transit, you cross a threshold of convenience and the system becomes a lot more useful.

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By Conrad664 (registered) | Posted April 09, 2013 at 12:14:01 in reply to Comment 87743

Its becaus peoples in the suberbs rely on there Cars to go to point A to B ect or other parts of the city in all the wards actuly not juste the suberbs

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted April 08, 2013 at 21:52:40 in reply to Comment 87743

I understand that sparsely populated areas are more expensive to service by transit, but the 8% is population, not area. Not providing service to 40 000 people is pretty bad! And it speaks to problems with planning that Hamilton has allowed so many new houses in areas with insufficient transit service. Which is also why we spend so much on roads.

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By ScreamingViking (registered) | Posted April 09, 2013 at 17:21:26 in reply to Comment 87745

The 8% is mostly the rural population... which is 7% of Hamilton's total based on the last Census

I agree that Hamilton is seriously lagging on transit indicators though.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted April 09, 2013 at 17:54:22 in reply to Comment 87765

Thanks for the link: it does seem that the stats can rural population corresponds to the non-service area pretty closely.

Still, I'd like to know if any of the new subdivisions fall into the rural category. For example, statscan lists cma Hamilton with a population 670 580, while the only other urban centres are Binbrook, Carlisle and Mount Hope.

What about Waterdown, or Glanbrook (which used to a separate rural township) for example?

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By ScreamingViking (registered) | Posted April 09, 2013 at 19:11:18 in reply to Comment 87767

If you add up Binbrook, Carlisle and Mount Hope on the CMA table you get the total noted under the "Less than 30,000" population centre group on the Census Division table. Waterdown appears to be part of the "100,000+" group there.

The CMA summary would include Burlington and Grimsby, and it looks like StatCan has lumped them into the "Hamilton" figure, probably because the urban areas are contiguous now (so the city's urban 475k, + ~176 Burlington and ~25 Grimsby = 670k; the rural CMA count has added the rural parts of those cities too, though they're not defined separately in the profiles)

There are usually maps available that show how these areas are all defined. The only ones I see online just show the CMA or CD/CSD areas.

StatCan is pretty diligent about how they define urban and rural when taking the Census - they have to be, to ensure they're getting accurate counts. You'd have to look at very detailed Dissemination Area (basically neighbourhood level) data to determine exactly how things added up, and where new subdivisions were located in individual DAs (in most cases, I suspect they get included as "urban" at the time of the Census or there are small changes made to DA boundaries to account for them; exceptions might be large-lot developments in small hamlets like Freelton or Kilbride)

Comment edited by ScreamingViking on 2013-04-09 19:26:03

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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted April 09, 2013 at 02:16:23

Point being that there appear to be people living in rural areas within the Hamilton borders. Their distance from the centre tends to preclude heavy transit adoption, and the HSR seems to be of the opinion that there are practical limitations to the amalgamated suburbs.

AFAIK, Flamborough has never had transit. That's 3-4% of the city's population right there.

To be honest, I'm not sure how these service numbers are arrived at. Do we count anyone within 500m of a transit stop? 1000m?

LRT has the ability to free buses up for deployment elsewhere, but apparently that's not in the business plan. Which is a shame, but not surprising.

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By Conrad664 (registered) | Posted April 09, 2013 at 18:30:06 in reply to Comment 87746

Can you tell me how many poeples in Ancaster Flamborow Glanbrook Stoney Creek Waterdown don`t tell its over 40,000 that need transit in thoses places get me some real info

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted April 09, 2013 at 14:37:53 in reply to Comment 87746

Actually, the idea would be that LRT would allow routes to be reconfigured and buses to be re-deployed, since much of routes 1, 5, 51, 10 would be redundant.

The problem is that the detailed planning can't really be done until LRT is decided.

I would guess that much of the 40 000 population not served is not in true rural areas, but in new subdivisions in Ancaster, Glanbrook, Stoney Creek and Waterdown. Part of the problem is likely that the "new" parts of Hamilton have never really been properly integrated into the HSR network. But the fundamental problem is that Hamilton's system has never recovered from savage cuts in the 80s and 90s and has been in survival (not expansion) mode ever since.

Here's another way of crunching the numbers, gross dollars spent on transit per capita of serviced population (which already favours Hamilton since we don't serve such a large portion of our population):

Hamilton: $150 Quebec: $321 Victoria: $255 Winnipeg: $210

Anyway you cut it, Hamilton is drastically under-spending on transit. Per capita, we are spending 1/3 less than the next lowest (Winnipeg) and less than half as much as Quebec! No wonder the service is bad and transit growth is feeble.

But we are leaders in spending on roads and infrastructure for motorists...

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2013-04-09 15:53:12

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By Keith (anonymous) | Posted April 09, 2013 at 23:20:36 in reply to Comment 87757

The comparisons you're making aren't apples-to-apples in terms of local funding. In the case of Winnipeg and Victoria, their province cover about half of the operating expenses (50% in Manitoba and 47% in BC). I'm under the impression Quebec has a similar arrangement but can't find any references to that fact.

Based on this, the per capita funding contribution by the respective municipalities would be:
Hamilton: $150.00
Winnipeg: $105.00
Victoria: $135.15

A very different picture which would indicate Hamilton is "progressive" in-terms of supporting transit from the local property tax but lacks support from the province. If HSR was getting the same deal, it'd be top of the list here. A better comparison would be between comparable Ontario transit agencies who face the same lack of provincial support (Waterloo Region, London, Mississauga, Brampton, York Region, etc.).

It's also unclear what 'Gross Expenditures' is encapsulating (i.e. whether only operating costs or also capital, increased maintenance costs from Winnipeg's new transitway, etc.)

Slide 65 of

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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted April 09, 2013 at 16:40:06 in reply to Comment 87757

Apologies. My understanding was that the B-line buses were being taken out of circulation to save on operating budget. Happy to be mistaken.

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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted April 09, 2013 at 16:54:54 in reply to Comment 87762

See page 3 of Rapid Ready - Expanding Mobility Choices in Hamilton (PW13014), submitted to the Feb 25 2013 GIC:

"With implementation of LRT, an increase between $2.9 million (no increased ridership and 6.5 minute LRT headway) and $3.5 million (assumes an 8% city-wide increase in ridership and a four-minute LRT headway) in the transit portion of the City operating budget levy can be expected. There may be a need for some reduction in service frequency to fully utilize the available train capacity. This scenario also assumes the LRT system would be operated by the City of Hamilton and eighteen buses would be removed from service."

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted April 09, 2013 at 17:43:05 in reply to Comment 87764

Thanks for the link the GIC report. I based my opinion on what was we were told at the RTCAC two years ago, it seems that things have changed since.

I'm not sure how to interpret that GIC report: when I was on the RTCAC the assumption the routes would be reconfigured to better feed into LRT. The implication was that the buses would be redeployed.

Now it seems that they are suggesting 18 buses would be removed from service, but this assumes no improvement on other routes.

I think the idea was to show that LRT could lead to cost reductions, but the other option would be to redeploy the buses to improve service elsewhere. I don't think this option is off the table.

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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted April 10, 2013 at 20:03:10 in reply to Comment 87766

IMHO, they're sucking and blowing at the same time. On the one hand they're offering up concrete benchmarks for expanded service and specific LRT headways, and on the other they're saying that the trains may have to run late in order to make them cost-effective and that, by the by, they'll be taking 18 buses out of service.

It's not impossible to reconcile these scenarios -- many of the outlying routes run light -- but it's interesting that they hope to improve city-wide ridership by 8% even as they're announcing plans to take 8% of the fleet out of service.

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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted April 09, 2013 at 02:53:16

Winnipeg: 6,750 lane-km
"1,720 lane-kilometers of Regional streets, 5,030 lane-kilometers of Local and Collector streets"

Hamilton: 6,200 lane-km
"6,200 lane-kilometres of road"

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By MikeyJ (registered) | Posted April 09, 2013 at 16:02:09

Hey someone (Mal) found my sections web page! All those years of updating weren't wasted.

After reviewing the numbers further (because of the similarity of the lane-km), what I found is the Hamilton Road Budget of $102 M for 2013 likely includes both the Traffic and the Maintenance Snow Removal budgets, while this is on separate lines in Winnipeg's budget:

Roadway Construction and Maintenance $66.320 M

Transportation Planning and Traffic Management $13.910 M

Roadway Snow Removal and Ice Control $30.756 M

These total to $110.986 M - which would make Winnipeg's Road Budget $8 million more than Hamilton's Road Budget.

Comment edited by MikeyJ on 2013-04-09 16:04:34

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted April 11, 2013 at 02:11:25

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted April 12, 2013 at 20:03:25 in reply to Comment 87811

Here's a number! Here's another number! WHEEEEEEE!

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted April 16, 2013 at 13:24:36

According to a report that went to the audit, finance and administration committee Monday, the city faced 859 liability claims in 2012, the lowest amount since 2008.

In total, the city paid out $2.4 million in liability claims last year. Sewer backups, which cost the city just over $100,000, were the biggest category, with 238 claims.

The 71 claims resulting from falls from sidewalks or curbs was the most expensive category at $949,750.

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