By Ryan McGreal
Published November 27, 2007
At last night's Committee of the Whole (COW) on the 2008 HSR budget, councillors voted to implement the staff proposal to increase transit fares. The supporters justified the fare increase because it was coupled with service improvments: new peak use service on Rymal Rd. and in Waterdown, and restored service on the Victoria/Wentworth loop.
Only four councillors - Brian McHattie, Bob Bratina, Sam Merulla and Chad Collins - voted against the increase.
The proposal from Public Works did not include projections on how the fare increases will affect ridership, but staff answered this question at the meeting indicating that ridership would grow by 0.5 to 1.5 percent next year, due partly to the service expansions.
Hamilton's Transportation Master Plan has set a goal of 100 transit trips per capita by 2020, but staff have produced no strategy for reaching this target.
Needless to say, 0.5 to 1.5 percent ridership growth barely keeps up with population growth, let alone increasing the rate of transit use. The Councillors who voted to accept this plan have effectively acknowledged that real transit ridership growth is not a priority for the city.
With urban transit ridership growing by an average of 5.3 percent in the past year across Canadian cities, Hamilton's acceptance of such a modest target is particularly galling.
With the reality of climate change pressing down and the risk of skyrocketing energy prices growing more credible by the day, it's truly astonishing that so many Councillors fail to see the benefit - or the necessity - of investing more in transit instead of offloading cost increases on the provincial gas tax and directly on riders.
The business as usual of seeing roads and highways as "investments" but transit as a "subsidy" has produced perennial deficits, crumbling infrastructure, high rates of poverty, and zero assessment growth projected for 2008 (so much for economic development). How many more times do we need to keep doing the same thing over and over and expecting the outcome to change?
What will it take for this Council to start taking seriously the job of running this city sustainably?