Transportation

HSR Ridership Grows Just 1% in 2008

By Ryan McGreal
Published November 26, 2008

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.

Year-Over-Year Transit Passengers per Month, 10 Largest Canadian Cities (1000s)
Month 2007 2008 Change (%)
Jan 1,203 1,177 -2.2%
Feb 1,164 1,194 2.5%
Mar 1,297 1,294 -0.2%
Apr 1,140 1,175 3.0%
May 1,155 1,168 1.1%
Jun 1,193 1,244 4.1%
Jul 1,032 1,085 4.9%
Aug 1,011 1,049 3.6%
Sep 1,272 1,319 3.6%
Total 10,466 10,705 2.3%

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.

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. Several of his essays have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. Ryan also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on twitter.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted November 26, 2008 at 22:55:38

Ryan, the market is a funny thing Ryan, it forces people to make choices on where to spend their money.

Therefore, if transit becomes more expensive, people change their behaviour.

However, since decreasing ridership undermines your world view, you feel perfectly justified in forcing people to pay for a service they otherwise wouldn't.

Your awesome.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted November 26, 2008 at 22:55:47

Ryan, the market is a funny thing Ryan, it forces people to make choices on where to spend their money.

Therefore, if transit becomes more expensive, people change their behaviour.

However, since decreasing ridership undermines your world view, you feel perfectly justified in forcing people to pay for a service they otherwise wouldn't.

You're awesome.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted November 27, 2008 at 00:01:03

What are you talking about?

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted November 27, 2008 at 02:18:02

Seancb, I'm trying (I need to take more time editing my posts) to highlight Ryan's commitment to increasing transit ridership, even though the only way to do this is to use the power of government taxation.

In order to keep ridership growing, the service must be subsidized by the very people who choose to avoid paying in the first place. What people refuse to give at the fare box, Ryan finds acceptable to take through tax collections.

Using that line of thinking, government could subsidize horse and carriage rides and he would be singing the praises of a return to less polluting modes of transportation.

Ryan, if government needs to subsidize a product or service, it's an inferior offering, period. Let the people decide what they want and mind your own business.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 27, 2008 at 11:42:08

ASmith, before you derail yet another thread, please go read any of the previous ones where we've already dealt with this shabby and tired argument that suggests transit systems are heavily subsidized by taxpayers but roads/highways aren't. Also, there's no rule stating that you MUST comment on every blog on this site. If you have nothing to add, feel free to just read and enjoy. If you have some good insight, please do share it. But repeating the same thing over and over is getting a little tiring.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted November 27, 2008 at 12:42:18

A Smith wrote:

Ryan, if government needs to subsidize a product or service, it's an inferior offering, period.

Transit is a public good: spending public money on it benefits everyone, not just the people using it. When a city has good transit, the following benefits help everyone:

  • The city grows denser, which increases the productivity of public infrastructure and the rate of innovation faster than the rate of population growth;

  • Air quality improves for everyone with fewer drivers;

  • The employment rate goes up because people who could not afford to drive to a job can take transit to it, which means more money going into the local economy;

  • Drivers have to contend with fewer other cars on the road;

  • Less wear and tear on the road, meaning lower maintenance costs;

among others.

Driving, like so many problems that governments intervene to address, is a classic collective action problem in which individuals pursuing rational self-interest produce negative consequences for everyone. In this case, the negative consequence is higher transportation costs, worse air pollution, higher GHG emissions, and a sprawled-out city with worse infrastructure productivity and a lower innovation rate.

That, in turn, leads to higher infrastructure maintenance costs borne by ratepayers and to slower economic growth with fewer employment growth opportunities and less of an economic clustering multiplier effect for innovators, investors and entrepreneurs. It's a double-whammy for residential ratepayers: higher costs on one end, and lower business tax assessments on the other.

High quality public transit more than pays for itself in improved economic and environmental circumstances for everyone - just like public education and public health care (which you stubbornly oppose). The increased amount of taxation is more than offset by a far more productive economy with much higher incomes and better quality of life.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted November 27, 2008 at 13:34:49

A Smith, I hate to break it to you but transit users do more to subsidize private automobile centric infrastructure than drivers do to subsidize transit.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted November 27, 2008 at 15:20:35

Ryan, I don't disagree with you that there are positives to mass transit, but it's obvious the public at large doesn't buy it.

Perhaps you should consider removing government from the people moving business altogether. Allow the market to establish the best and most efficient modes of transportation.

I have a feeling that if the market was allowed to function without subsidized government competition, we would likely see exactly what you are calling for, more mass transit.

People accept that government does not directly provide most things that we purchase, so why is transportation any different?

Bring on the toll roads, lower people's tax bills and watch traffic jams disappear.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted November 27, 2008 at 16:24:55

A Smith wrote:

Ryan, I don't disagree with you that there are positives to mass transit, but it's obvious the public at large doesn't buy it.

I wouldn't say that. The public in Hamilton funds it to the tune of $30 million a year, and public opinion generally supports more transit funding and better service, and opposes raising fares.

Allow the market to establish the best and most efficient modes of transportation.

Because of network effects, negative externalities and what Michael Heller calls "the tragedy of the [unregulated] anticommons", market forces cannot optimize transportation systems.

People accept that government does not directly provide most things that we purchase, so why is transportation any different?

Transportation is different for the reasons I mentioned above, and also because it is an authentic public good (in the way that, say, video game systems are not).

Bring on the toll roads

I'm not sure if toll roads are the best way to do it, but I agree with you on the principle of internalizing the cost of driving, since driving is emphatically not a public good.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted November 27, 2008 at 21:43:06

Ryan, I checked out Mr. Heller's website and found much wrong with his thinking. His story regarding Russian store owners is not a problem that begins with private ownership, it stems from allowing government decision makers the ability to handle land transfers.

The land contracts were flawed from the beginning and this was a result of government policy and nothing else. To then suggest that this is the failure of the free market is disingenuous at best.

What about patent holders? There again is another problem that stems from government interference in the free market. Get government out of the way, abolish patents and allow people to innovate quickly or lose business. Once again not a failure of the free market.

His airport story was the worst, he tells the reader that small land owners block the building of airports, but offers no explanation as to why that might be. We are simply left with the impression that landowners hate airports. Since the majority of large airports in the US are publicly owned, I tend to think that it might have something to do with land owners belief in the deep pockets of government giving them a sweet heart deal.

I think it also it has to do with allowing uninvolved citizens to much say in how the buyers and sellers manage their affairs. Once again this stems from too much government, not too much freedom.

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