The real problem is that Hamilton has to keep transit fares extremely low to compete with the relative ease and convenience of driving.
By Jonathan Dalton
Published March 19, 2007
The city's recent proposal of a transit fare increase has provoked much concern over the detrimental effects it will have on ridership and level of service.
The strongest argument against fare increases is the projected decrease in ridership, thus starting a negative feedback loop of reduced service - less ridership - less revenue - fare increase - reduced service.
However, it is also true that our system is cheaper than surrounding municipalities; and the Toronto system is thriving at $2.75 per trip.
Are TTC users on average richer than HSR users? Those who commute to high paying jobs on the TTC would bring the average way up, but for the involuntary transit users in Toronto, those who use the system by necessity, their situation is worse because they have to pay higher fares while their living expenses are much higher than ours, while the minimum wage in Toronto is the same as here. Yet Toronto's transit system does not suffer from falling ridership levels and reduced service like ours does.
It appears to me that in the event of an HSR fare increase, the lost ridership will come out of voluntary users (those with other options) who will see taking the bus as less value for the money.
Involuntary users will not likely be forced to quit their jobs over a 15 cents increase, or will not be motivated to walk to work and back to save 30 cents. If you consider someone making $8/hour, working full time, the cost of that fare increase in terms of reduced income would be 0.47 percent of their income or about $6.30 per month. Somehow, I doubt the 'tax on the poor' factor is really what this is about.
The TTC has a higher percentage of voluntary users because the system is more efficient and the traffic situation is worse, making convenience and direct cost savings a greater motivating factor in taking the TTC rather than driving.
In Hamilton our living costs are lower, low income workers are more likely to be able to afford a car (though the financial sense of doing so is questionable), the bus system is slower, and there is much less congestion. As a result, private vehicle travel is universally faster than transit.
A higher fare will do damage, but it is not the root cause of the problem. The fact that single occupant vehicle travel is more convenient, affordable, and accessible in Hamilton is what is crippling our transit system, and that is why we need to keep our fares consistently below average to protect it.
So do we keep the fares low and financially starve the system while the root causes remain (ignorance of energy/environment issues, subsidies for private vehicle travel, miseducation of the public, cultural reinforcement of existing habits)?
Or do we recognize fare increases as an inevitable consequence of inflation and one more reason why it is imperative to change our policies to stop subsidizing and encouraging unsustainable living?
More people need to use transit out of principle, and awareness of the true cost of the alternatives. Two factors influence the result and work against each other: the cost/convenience of transit, and the cost/convenience of driving a car.
I would argue that we are pushing the former to its limit with the resources we have, and work must be done on the latter - making it more expensive and/or slower to drive a car through the city of Hamilton.
For reference, a bus/metro ticket in Paris, one of the world's best transit systems, is about $2.25 Canadian, $0.15 more than ours. Hamilton is not out of line in asking $2.25 to ride the bus. This is less than the cost of gas alone for many trips.
In conclusion, I would say we should not raise the HSR fare now, but in acknowledgment of the rising costs, we should do everything in our power to eliminate all governmental facilitation, encouragment and subsidizing of single occupancy vehicle travel, so it will become apparent that transit is much more cost effective.
Then, a more reasonable fare could be charged without hurting the system.