Councillor Sam Merulla is challenging his Council colleagues to address a long-standing failure of amalgamation by ending area rating for transit.
By Ryan McGreal
Published January 28, 2015
Ward 4 Councillor Sam Merulla has circulated a notice of motion to ask staff to report back on "the feasibility and impacts" of ending area rating for transit.
When the municipal governments of Hamilton-Wentworth were amalgamated in 2001, one of the compromises was that the various former municipalities would receive differential tax rates for certain services: transit, recreation and fire services.
The compromise has always been controversial. Hamilton is the only municipality in Ontario to area-rate services and tax rates.
In the case of transit, it severely limits the city's ability to expand service into new areas, since it requires that the entire cost of that service expansion is borne by the local ratepayers instead of by the city in general.
In late 2009, Council approved a motion by Mayor Fred Eisenberger to establish a citizens' jury of randomly-selected residents from each ward, study the issue and recommend a solution.
Council ended up punting a decision until after the 2010 election, but they did approve a solution to area rating in early 2011 for recreation and fire services - but not for transit.
This has had a number of perverse consequences for transit service in Hamilton, some of which are documented in this CATCH article. In addition, it has distorted the politics of transit, as argued in this article by James Arlen.
A recent failure of area rating was the decision to end transcab service to Binbrook, since the entire cost had to be borne by Binbrook residents.
With area rating, it becomes near-impossible to expand transit service to areas that are underserved because the cost of expansion is not carried by the city as a whole.
It also leads to chronic disconnects between the burgeoning need for higher transit service levels and the political interests of suburban councillors, who have less transit service in their wards and tend to vote against transit improvements anywhere.
At the recent Council meeting when a slim majority of 9-7 Councillors voted to kill the transit-only lane on King Street, Merulla took note of his colleagues all saying they support transit improvements (despite voting against a transit improvement that literally cost the city nothing) and challenged them to address area rating for transit.
With this notice of motion, it looks like Merulla plans to make good on that challenge.
Here is the text of the motion:
Whereas transportation and public transit continue to be significant and important public policy matters; and
Whereas public transit (known as HSR) in the City of Hamilton remains a priority for Council; and
Whereas public transit is currently apportioned to residents based on geographic area and service levels; and
Whereas Council has stated on numerous occasions, it supports a system wide approach to public transit which includes enhancing service levels;
Therefore let it be resolved:
That City staff report back as part of the 2016 Budget process the feasibility and impacts of adding HSR to the general levy; and
That this report align with the overall City Transit strategy.
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