Hamilton has a unique opportunity to invest in transit, walking and cycling to help create a healthy, vibrant city.
By Jason Leach
Published May 31, 2005
Hamilton is poised to receive several million dollars per year, perhaps as much as $40 million in a few years, from gas tax revenue. This should be welcome news to local citizens.
However, the city has made a concerted effort to get the upper levels of government to remove any "strings" - their demand that Hamilton spend much of the rebate on transit.
Hamilton, of course, wants to spend it on roads, roads and more roads.
Recently there have been several major announcements in suburban regions of the GTA regarding transit improvements. York region is moving forward with a brilliant rapid bus transit (BRT) system.
Mississauga, of all places, is planning a Light Rapid Transit system, most likely beginning its life as a BRT as well before exploring options to move toward light rail. High Occupancy Vehicle lanes are planned for several local highways including the 403 through Peel and the QEW through Halton. (See the New Flyer website for more information on various modern buses.)
The TTC is moving forward with plans for more talking buses throughout their entire transit system. According to this article in the Star, the entire TTC can be outfitted with this technology for around $3.5 to $4 million dollars.
That's 1,500 buses and 250 streetcars. The HSR has a fleet of about 200 buses. Perhaps this technology could be implemented here for a million bucks or less. How wonderful for residents with various disabilities and out-of-town visitors who would clearly hear which street they are approaching instead of having to keep asking everyone and craning their necks to see where they are.
As City of Hamilton Transit Director Don Hull explained, "inflationary pressures alone - insurance, fuel, compensation - would eat up the entire gas tax allocation into perpetuity after three or four budget cycles. If our inflationary pressures are in the 3-6% range, all of the gas tax could go, over a three or four year period, simply to absorbing inflationary increases."
As if more highways and widening suburban roads will be able to clear their own snow, remove all the garbage from each new home, re-fill their own potholes and operate street lights and stop lights absolutely free.
Roads require much more ongoing upkeep costs than transit improvements ever would. But in our society, we somehow think that free streets and parking are our legal rights as Canadians. As if an inexhaustible supply of land is just sitting there with no purpose other than to hold our precious cars.
Transit users pay $2.10 per ride or $70.00 per month for a pass. The system is woefully inadequate and continually looked upon by the "elite" of society as a subsidized method of transportation. (The city pays around half the cost per rider.) After all, car owners pay for their vehicle, insurance, maintenance and gas right?
Well, I hate to break it to you, but our gas prices in Canada are artificially low. Canada spends a billion dollars a year to subsidize oil exploration. "Free" parking at your grocery stores, malls and plazas isn't free at all. Somebody has to pay for it.
Highways, roads and bridges all have massive cost requirements and yet we zip around for free screaming at our radio if the slightest suggestion of tolls is mentioned. Because drivers don't really pay for it, there's a huge incentive to drive everywhere.
The way to ease traffic congestion is not to build more and bigger roads. They only lead to more sprawl, more single-occupancy cars, more air pollution, more strain on the health system, more obesity, and more congestion - all costs subsidized by taxpayers.
It also means more of our precious time wasted, leading us to whip through the "handy" drive-thru instead of taking the time to enjoy a healthy meal with family and friends.
A new generation of children is raised without getting to know or interact with their neighbours. They're too busy playing with the handheld video game as the family SUV rolls into the belly of the house. Investing in transit, walking and cycling is the way to a healthy, vibrant city.
Hamilton is blessed to have the Niagara Escarpment cut through the heart of our city. However, with its beauty comes transportation challenges. The HSR needs to invest in bike racks on all escarpment crossing routes.
More bike lanes need to be added through the heart of downtown, not just Westdale, Stoney Creek and the Mountain. We need talking buses, bus-only lanes, and a BRT system east-west from Eastgate to Mac and north-south from the waterfront to Limeridge. It's time for us to start acting like a real city before we get left in the dust by our drab, boring suburban counterparts to the east.
Invest the gas tax money into transit. You'll have ongoing upkeep costs regardless of where you invest. The past 30 years have seen the suburbs and roads get the lions share of our loot. It's time for a change.