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.
Editor, Raise the Hammer
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