Special Report: Light Rail

HSR Ten Year Strategy Very Different from What Council Requested

Council needs to push back on this plan and start asking some hard questions about how the city's transit strategy has drifted so far from what staff were directed to produce.

By Ryan McGreal
Published March 04, 2015

this article has been updated

With the draft HSR Ten Year Local Transit Strategy [PDF] being presented to General Issues Committee today, it is worth reviewing the Council motion that directed staff to create this document.

The motion [PDF], which former Ward 1 Councillor Brian McHattie introduced on June 19, 2013, refers to $45 million in new funding for local transit service to be funded mainly from local sources.

It also reiterates the goal, which Council first approved in the Transporation Master Plan, of increasing annual transit use to 80-100 trips per capita by 2025.

The report which staff have prepared looks very different from what they were asked to do. The cost has ballooned to $302 million, driven mainly by a $200 million bus storage and maintenance facility, and most of the new capital cost is expected to come from the Province.

Likewise, most of the new operating cost is expected to come from fare increases, in violation of the principle that transit operating cost should be shared equitably between riders and taxpayers.

Perhaps worst of all, the Strategy itself acknowledges that it will completely fail to achieve Council's ridership target. The only way to reach that target, according to the Strategy, is for the City to go ahead with its rapid transit plan.

The Metrolinx regional transportation fund was established to provide Provincial funding for regional rapid transit projects. It was under the auspices of this funding framework that Hamilton started its rapid transit plan in early 2008.

The understanding was that the Province would pay for rapid transit, while the municipality would pay for local bus transit and integrate the two in a comprehensive transit system.

That is what McHattie's motion called for: local transit spending to boost service levels citywide and support the city's rapid transit plan so Hamilton can achieve its transit goals.

Instead, we have been presented a local transit strategy that offloads funding to the Province, displacing our rapid transit capital request and indefinitely deterring the investment that is needed to achieve our transit goals.

Council needs to push back on this plan and start asking some hard questions about how the city's transit strategy has drifted so far from what staff were directed to produce.

Here is the text of the motion:

Implementation of Rapid Ready - Local Transit Service Improvements and Financial Strategy

Whereas, the Rapid Ready report addresses the need for a $45M investment in local public transit in order to serve the needs of Hamiltonians, and to serve the rapid transit routes;

And Whereas the Rapid Ready report, building on earlier recommendations in Council's Transportation Master Plan (TMP) (2007), calls for transit ridership in Hamilton to increase to 80-100 rides per capita from its current level of 45 rides per capita;

And Whereas the TMP also calls for a doubling of public transit use over the next 15 years from a daily modal split of 6% today to 12% in the 2021 to 2031 long term time frame;

And Whereas the 2010 Operational Review of transit identifies specific priority service level improvements, emphasizing the need for more buses on Hamilton Mountain, and in the former area municipalities;

And Whereas, notwithstanding local transit service improvements made with Provincial Gas Tax funding, there has been no City investment in transit service improvements over the past decade;

And Whereas it is important to consider all sources of funding to improve local transit service levels including but not limited to parking revenues, fare increases, resolution of the transit area rating plan, City operating budget, and funding from the Provincial and Federal governments;

And Whereas the economic, environmental, health and social benefits of public transit are well-known.

Therefore Be It Resolved:

(a) That staff come forward with recommendations for consideration during the 2014 operating and capital budget process with the first priorities for local transit service improvements to begin implementing Rapid Ready;

(b) That staff report back in time for the 2015 budget process to the new City Council on a ten-year Hamilton local transit service level strategy, including specific route recommendations and a financial strategy, with reference to the role played by rapid transit, and with a goal of reaching 80-100 rides per capita by 2025.


Update: this article originally contained a typo indicating that the motion was presented on June 19, 2003. It was actually presented on June 19, 2013. RTH regrets the error. You can jump to the changed paragraph.

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 wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus and HuffPost. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 04, 2015 at 09:56:41

2003? Seriously? This has been collecting dust for that long?
EDIT: reading through the original motion I'm guessing you meant to say 2013?

Comment edited by jason on 2015-03-04 09:57:41

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By Question (anonymous) | Posted March 04, 2015 at 10:14:58

Where can citizens of this fine city go to complain when the elected city officials are clearly not representing them/ majority (e.g. King St. TOL)? Can the ombudsman do anything?

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By BigBrother (anonymous) | Posted March 04, 2015 at 11:58:35

No timeline to implement measures to improve accountability of elites and government officials, but in the meantime bill C-51 is being rushed through?

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By StephenBarath (registered) | Posted March 04, 2015 at 15:10:12

I do not understand why they would be proposing to raise all additional funds from fares. As mentioned in the article, it is an accepted principle that the property tax levy pays for transit (our farebox recovery is less than half right now), so why should the levy not pay for part of the proposed improvements?

Fares last went up in 2010. I can understand we may be due for an increase. But these are not insignificant increases. Since 2010, the Consumer Price Index has increased by about 9%. The proposal is for the adult ticket price to increase by 12.5 percent; for the cash fare to increase by 17.6% (double the rate of CPI increases over the last five years); and for the monthly pass to increase by 13.8% for adults (and significantly more for seniors). The proposal then calls for increases (for adult passes) in excess of 4% every year thereafter for the next three, and in the future “annual fare increases of at least CPI.” I assume that means transit riders should expect above-inflationary fare increases from now on, and should plan accordingly.

This seems to be adding insult to injury. The riders who will pay these increased fares are the people who have stuck by the system even as it has offered declining utility. Now, they are being asked to fund- alone- all of the proposed improvements, which they won’t start to experience for several years. Some of them will have in the meantime stopped using transit because of the added cost, either making investments in other forms of transportation (I mean, in some cases buying a car and adding costs to the municipal budget that way), or else just making new habits that do not involve transit.

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted March 04, 2016 at 13:59:50 in reply to Comment 109940

I'm also wondering why they aren't considering possible federal funding. Federal is anxious to fund shovel-ready transit projects Canada-wide, and this could be one of them.

Side note #1: If only we market HSR better, with publicity, a HSR website, a HSR twitter, and some minor HSR service optimizations (predictability) -- we could win FEDERAL funding for the HSR bus garage expansion more quickly. Federal is currently quickly shoveling money right now to shovel-ready transit/infrastructure projects Canada-wide. Every unfunded transit related project that already had their EA and is shovel-ready, are potential recipients in the next 12 months. Why are we missing this opportunity to get the garage funded, and a potential HSR fleet expansion? In other words: Why are we leaving this MONEY on the table?* (This is a separate debate than "how much should the bus garage cost" which the article aims at)

Side note #2: Even today, I sometimes get confused whether I'm able to catch #10 B-Line Express (stops service shortly after ~7pm weekdays, doesn't run weekends) or have to wait for a #1. Google Maps on my phone helps, but it needs to be better. Not everyone uses a smartphone, or knows enough to use transit apps, to "trust" a bus stop. Consider the elderly, as well as those who can't afford data. I often don't bother, and often just grab a SoBi bike, or drive my car (to Aldershot GO), since my working hours often varies wildly due to working late. Depending on where I am in the city, I don't even know which bus stop actually has running buses -- there are multiple bus stops in Hamilton that confusing has no buses stopping at them for several daylight hours (they instead go to an adjacent bus stop for example). It is my opinion that all municipal bus stops (not clearly visibly labelled as "LIMITED SERVICE") should always have a bus passing the stop all day long. Toronto relies on this assumption. I like transit, but why is HSR so confusing sometimes to the point where I don't always bother? Let's fix HSR. Improve HSR clarity 100% across the board. Not just to improve transit numbers, but also to attract FUNDING -- MONEY. Studies/reports are important, but better service visibility, all across the board, reducing confusion, online and offline, makes it easier to keep all of this "on the radar" (including internal government communications, etc).*

We're the city where we can potentially get hurt the most by fare increases. Decreases in ridership could potentially hurt our merits of becoming a recipient of funding the bus garage by alternate funding sources (e.g. Federal funds, future Metrolinx quick-wins, 2018 election opportunities, etc).

While fare raises may be needed at some point due to inflation, we currently have built up many low-lying ridership-increase opportunities that are relatively cheap. At $2.15 (via Presto), we are one of the cheaper bus services and I understand this may not be sustainable. But that said, we could increase farebox recovery quite a bit in the next 1-2 years with some well-optimized changes including new users attracted by much easier schedule access.

Comment edited by mdrejhon on 2016-03-04 14:07:40

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted March 04, 2016 at 14:24:03 in reply to Comment 116826

...and it doesn't even have to be expensive.

Fortunately, HSR fleet is GPS tracked and its real-time data is accessible by Open Data these days (Kudos). So other apps now routinely use HSR data.

Thanks to HTML5 embeds (Google Maps embed, Transit App embed; TTC uses it at bottom-right corner), the cost of building a HSR website has probably fallen 90%! Just hire a place like Factor[e] or Wise&Hammer, no need for mega corporations for such a bus service.

There's already content on hamilton.ca for maps and www.busweb.hamilton.ca:8008/ (doesn't work through a firewall, I can't look this up from my office) for HSR info. Just merge it into the new website. Give a small local business some business!

Just get it done. It's cheap nowadays, and could help us win alternate sources of funding for HSR improvements of all kinds (including helping getting the bus garage funded). Send a small 5-figure sum to one of the local web outfits. Maybe even low 6-figure if you're looking for a Rolls Royce, but there's so many islands of existing HSR bus content and functioning HSR-compatible 's available (that even works on iPads too!), that they can easily be merged into an official website.

For example, look at how impressive the Matthew Green campaign website had been (they used Wise&Hammer!), and he didn't have to spend a million dollars to run a campaign website almost worthy of a country presidential campaign.

We need to win funding for an HSR expansion.
All cylinders need to be fired, including low-lying apples like these, line up all ducks in order.

Whether online fixes or offline fixes. Low lying apples.

Offline fixes: Even a simple thing such as a "LIMITED SERVICE" or "HOURS: XX:XX] sign on specific bus stops (that has no buses at all during some daylight hours), to things like merging the existing content into a unified mobile-friendly HSR bus website, to provide a "united front" of cheap HSR bus improvements. Whether it's a 20 A-Line Express bus stop (no buses for several hours midday -- in large text rather than fine schedule print) or one of those multiple bus stops near City Hall on Main (separated by route numbers, so that some stops has service at some hours, and it's super easy to stand at the wrong bus stop). I got a very bad impression the first three times I used HSR in Hamilton, because of newbie mistakes like confusing #10 B-Line Express versus #1 bus route, or standing at a bus stop that had no service, etc.

"First-time user marketability of HSR needs to improve"

How about low lying apple fixes???

Clarity. Consistency.

Heck, maybe they can begin by spending just a mere $XX,XXX (five figures) (on one quick fix at a time, like new unified website) to dramatically increase online visibility (and become mobile web friendly too) to better impress the hell out of other government levels who's trying to decide which city X and Y are worthy of what amount of seven, eight, nine or more figures of transit funding. Can't this proceed?

Obviously this is a separate question than "How much should a bus garage cost?" (this article fodder) but if all of this were done, then funding to fill the ENTIRE bus garage, could follow a heck lot more easily in the future if we all spent time focussing on the little things (physical and online), all of which are individually cheap. HSR need to be trusted that they CAN quickly do low-lying-apple improvements, to win the bigger fish.

Comment edited by mdrejhon on 2016-03-04 14:47:18

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