The boundaries for transit rates match the old boundaries of the municipalities that were amalgamated to form Hamilton, but they are illogical from the perspective of the transit network.
By Viv Saunders
Published March 08, 2016
Hamilton City Council seems to have decided to put off any discussion on area rating for transit. Area rating is the practice in Hamilton of charing different tax rates for transit to different parts of the city.
The boundaries for transit rates match the old boundaries of the municipalities that were amalgamated to form Hamilton, but they are illogical from the perspective of the transit network. They do not follow a reasonable pattern of where we actually have transit services, and nor do they follow the quality of those services.
One such example - and we have many citywide - is Ward 10 in Stoney Creek, which is 100% urban under our tax system. In Ward 10, a resident living on a neighbourhood street such as Margaret Avenue (a local road between Millen Road and Dewitt Road) pays a transit levy of 3 percent, or approximately $5 per month.
The HSR bus route 55 is within walking distance, with a stop at the corner of Millen Road and Highway 8. At certain times of the day, the 55 bus interchanges at Eastgate Mall with the B-Line express bus and continues west across the city.
Now contrast a resident of Ward 5, part of the old city of Hamilton, who also boards the bus at Eastgate Square but pays a transit levy of 8 percent or approximately $19 per month.
For comparison purposes, urban properties in Glanbrook have a transit levy of 4 percent, Ancaster pays 2.5 percent, Dundas pays 2.2 percent, and Flamborough pays 1.2 percent.
|Area||Transit Rate||% of Full Rate|
|Hamilton - Urban||0.089%||100.00%|
|Ancaster - Urban||0.027%||30.34%|
|Ancaster - Urban with Rural Fire||0.027%||30.34%|
|Dundas - Urban||0.024%||26.97%|
|Flamborough - Urban||0.013%||14.61%|
|Glanbrook - Urban 0.486%||0.045%||50.56%|
|Glanbrook - Urban with Rural Fire||0.045%||50.56%|
|Stoney Creek - Urban||0.027%||30.34%|
|Stoney Creek - Urban with Rural Fire||0.027%||30.34%|
|Ancaster - Rural||0.000%||0.00%|
|Ancaster - Rural with Urban Fire||0.000%||0.00%|
|Dundas - Rural||0.000%||0.00%|
|Dundas - Rural with Urban Fire||0.000%||0.00%|
|Flamborough - Rural||0.000%||0.00%|
|Glanbrook - Rural||0.000%||0.00%|
|Glanbrook - Rural with Urban Fire||0.000%||0.00%|
|Stoney Creek - Rural||0.000%||0.00%|
|Source: City of Hamilton - Residential General and Area Specific Rates By Community|
It is irresponsible and unfair to all taxpayers for Council to defer a decision to address this problem, even for the initial step of drawing transit boundaries that are more in line with our existing transit services.
Can we not simply take a map, stick a pin in it, and capture all the properties within a reasonable walking distance to a bus stop that has a minimum 30-minute service frequency? That could become our Transit Catchment Area #1.
From there, Council can further the discussions on one appropriate funding rate to ensure an equitable transit levy throughout our amalgamated city. That is how the levy works for police, fire, recreation, sidewalks and other municipal services. Many of those services were also area rated after amalgamation but Council phased out area rating for all but transit starting in 2011.
That decision was made after the first Citizens' Forum on Area Rating presented its recommendations to Council. Just last week, another Citizens' Forum, this one on Transit, made a similar recommendation:
There is a whole city perspective to city building by improving transit across Greater Hamilton that warrants consideration of a change to the area rating of transit.
Failing to ensure we are operating with a true Transit Area boundary system as a basic minimum has cost us millions of dollars in lost revenues just in the last few years - estimated at $7.5 million in lost revenue in the last ten years from Ward 10 alone, or $150,000 a month.
As long as this goes unaddressed, the City is losing out on transit revenue, funds that could be used to improve our transit services. Due to Council's fear of "opening up old wounds," the area rating non-discussion will potentially continue to cost us many more millions going forward.
Our elected representatives need to follow the core Values that they have adopted:
Tackling the broken Transit Area Rated system doesn't need to be an all-or-nothing discussion. We don't need to revisit all the other convoluted components, like rural vs. urban, where there is a lack of agreement that ends up in discussions breaking down and inaction.
Councillors don't need to turn their discussion into a battleground. The discussion can easily be focused and split into palatable pieces with small procedural changes, one step at a time.
The first step could be identifying equitable boundaries and taxing appropriately within our urban areas. Once this is agreed upon and providing some additional transit funds that could be used to improve service, the next step, if Council has the political will, could be a discussion on the whole social/economic/environmental issue citywide.
But right now, we need Council to please take a positive first step! The Citizens Forum back in 2011 asked for this. The Citizens Jury on Transit just last week asked for this. And multiple urban residents throughout the whole city understand the system needs to be fixed and made more equitable in order to ensure sustainable funding.
Consider these messages from members of the Citizens Jury on Transit:
"I would like the City Councillors to put real weight on the recommendations. I want them to realize that our opinions were well-informed."
"I was very happy to represent Ward 10 ... I only hope that the recommendations that we present to City Council will help shape the decisions that will be made."
Property taxes, like it or not, are not a fee for service but rather a way of distributing the cost for local public services and programs throughout the municipality. A good start is a more equitable distribution of the cost throughout all of our urban areas.
Council harmony is very important. But in this case, is it more important than doing the right thing?
One final thought on how our transit area rating is a hangover from pre-amalgamation days - a system that just got adopted holus-bolus at the time of amalgamation and 16 years later it still reigns.
All riders pay the same fare and can travel anywhere the HSR goes, but the tax levies and area ratings vary by former municipality. That's why the Barton bus stops just short of Grays Road in the Creek and loops back around, even though Barton Street continues on out to Winona.
The Barton bus runs every 7 minutes in Hamilton, but if you want to go further east along Barton - say, to Mohawk College campus - you have to wait/switch at Bell Manor to the Stoney Creek 55, which runs every 30 minutes.
On the flip side of this route, for those of us that are heading west into the former city, we only have to wait at the same loop to catch that Barton Street bus which runs every seven minutes. Stoney Creek users have better service heading west than Hamilton users have heading east.
Under our current tax system though, to improve this service for the Hamilton transit users who want to keep travelling east on Barton, the service enhancement is considered to be in Stoney Creek and the whole cost is solely paid by Stoney Creek properties. Talk about backwards.
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