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[City of Hamilton] Staff Report:
Divert Transit Capital to Operations, Automate Annual Fare Increases

by Ryan McGreal

Tuesday’s Public Works Committee meeting will consider a staff report [PDF link] on redressing Hamilton’s underinvestment in transit. Specifically, the report recommends:

  • Taking $3 million in Provincial Gas Tax money currently allocated to bus fleet capital replacement and putting it instead into the HSR operational budget to increase route coverage on several under-serviced routes.
  • A policy for determining an annual transit fare increase so Council doesn’t have to approve annual fare increase recommendations from staff.

The report does not explain how the City will backfill the $3 million in capital funding it proposes shifting into operations, though one suggestion is for Hamilton to join nearly every other municipality in earmarking some of its Federal Gas Tax money for transit instead of roads and other capital projects.

The report does note that the HSR traditionally funds capital projects by diverting some of its operational funding. This is in contrast to other departments, which receive dedicated capital funding commitments in addition to their operating funds.

In recent years, the HSR purchased new buses through the Ontario Bus Replacement Program (OBRP) fund, as well as one-off Federal and Provincial grants. However, the Province recently killed the OBRP as part of its deficit-cutting efforts, reducing Hamilton’s bus capital funding by $3.7 million.

Nor does the report explain how the City will achieve increases in transit ridership if it keeps raising fares. The relationship between fare prices and ridership is extremely well established and understood: every time the city raises fares, it flattens or reverses ridership gains.

The transit operational review the city undertook in 2009 concluded:

fundamental changes will be required if transit is to succeed in a world of increasing social, economic, environmental, technological and policy change citing the need for a significant shift in policy, from cost driven to a market-driven policy with less emphasis on cost recovery.

However, a comparative table in the report shows how Hamilton fares against other GTA municipalities in terms of transit service levels relative to population in 2005 and 2008.

While most other municipalities have increased their per capita commitments to transit significantly, Hamilton’s commitment has actually fallen.

Transit Service Level Relative to Population

Brampton Revenue Service hours per capita 2005: 0.95
Revenue service hours per capita 2008: 1.30
Percent change: 37%

York Revenue Service hours per capita 2005: 0.80
Revenue service hours per capita 2008: 1.03
Percent change: 29%

Burlington Revenue Service hours per capita 2005: 0.76 Revenue service hours per capita 2008: 0.90 Percent change: 18%

Revenue Service hours per capita 2005: 0.87
Revenue service hours per capita 2008: 0.94
Percent change: 8%

Revenue Service hours per capita 2005: 0.67
Revenue service hours per capita 2008: 0.66
Percent change: -1%

Revenue Service hours per capita 2005: .1.44
Revenue service hours per capita 2008: 1.41
Percent change: -2%

Transit funding - and ridership - have stagnated in Hamilton over the past several years, in large part because of several back-to-back fare increases.

As a result, Hamilton has suffered steady declines in its share of the Provincial Gas Tax. The cumulative annual loss is projected to reach $900,000 in 2011.

Appendix B of the report specifies which routes need additional coverage:

  • 51 University - 5 more full-time employees
  • 1 King - 9 more full-time employees
  • 21 Upper Kenilworth - 4 more full-time employees
  • 10 B Line - 1 more full-time employee
  • 5 Delaware - 5 more full-time employees
  • 43 Stone Church - 2 more full-time employees
  • 44 Rymal - 2 more full-time employees
  • 6 / 7 /8 Aberdeen / York / Locke - 1 more full-time employee

Appendix D details several complaints from HSR riders who had to wait while numerous overstuffed buses passed them. Here’s one example: “Customer said he was standing at the stop and without a word of a lie, counted 10 buses that went passed him because they were full.”

Given the conclusions of the operational review, the City’s stated objective of doubling transit ridership by 2020, the request for the Province to invest in Light Rail Transit, and the terms of the Provincial Gas Tax transfer, it makes no sense whatsoever to keep kneecapping ridership growth with annual fare increases instead of committing to invest more funding to improve service and capture real gains in ridership.