CATCH has the grim details, courtesy of Statistics Canada: thanks to an ill-timed fare increase in mid-2007 and another one at the start of 2008, HSR ridership is up by only an estimated one percent for 2008, a year that saw huge swings in oil prices that drove significant increases in transit ridership elsewhere.
Average year-over-year transit ridership in the ten largest Canadian cities (Hamilton is Canada's ninth largest city) was up 2.3 percent from January to September, with monthly year-over-year increases of 4.1 percent in June, 4.9 percent in July and 3.6 percent in each of August and September.
The September 2008 total ridership - 1,319,000 passenger trips - is the highest ever recorded by StatsCan.
Data Source: Statistics Canada
Hamilton's paltry one percent growth is actually a milestone for the city's long-starved transit providor. Ridership growth between 2001 and 2007 grew by only three percent, while national transit ridership grew by 15 percent between 2002 and 2007.
Ridership would have grown even more, except that most transit systems are already running at capacity. Hamilton is no exception, with the east-west B-Line corridor, slated for a new rapid transit system by Metrolinx, running at 150 percent of capacity for four to six hours a day. (Capacity is defined as all seats occupied.)
Public Works staff requested another ten cent fare increase effective January 2009, but the recommendation was deadlocked by the Committee of the Whole on November 15 (of twelve councillors who voted, the split was six and six).
Council will revisit the fare increase on Wednesday night, but of the four councillors who missed the November 15 vote, two will likely support the increase (Margaret McCarthy and Robert Pasuta), while two will likely oppose the increase (Bob Bratina and Bernie Morelli).
In an attempt to break the impasse with a compromise, Mayor Fred Eisenberger has proposed a five cent increase instead, insisting that the HSR needs the additional revenue to meet its operating budget without raising transit tax levies.
However, ridership is strongly correlated with fare prices: higher fares result in lower ridership, and vice versa. Therefore, any fare increase must take into account the lost revenue from forgone transit use.