Special Report: Transit

Council Has a Responsibility to Resolve Area Rating for Transit

The boundaries for transit rates match the old boundaries of the municipalities that were amalgamated to form Hamilton, but they are illogical from the perspective of the transit network.

By Viv Saunders
Published March 08, 2016

Hamilton City Council seems to have decided to put off any discussion on area rating for transit. Area rating is the practice in Hamilton of charing different tax rates for transit to different parts of the city.

The boundaries for transit rates match the old boundaries of the municipalities that were amalgamated to form Hamilton, but they are illogical from the perspective of the transit network. They do not follow a reasonable pattern of where we actually have transit services, and nor do they follow the quality of those services.

One such example - and we have many citywide - is Ward 10 in Stoney Creek, which is 100% urban under our tax system. In Ward 10, a resident living on a neighbourhood street such as Margaret Avenue (a local road between Millen Road and Dewitt Road) pays a transit levy of 3 percent, or approximately $5 per month.

The HSR bus route 55 is within walking distance, with a stop at the corner of Millen Road and Highway 8. At certain times of the day, the 55 bus interchanges at Eastgate Mall with the B-Line express bus and continues west across the city.

Now contrast a resident of Ward 5, part of the old city of Hamilton, who also boards the bus at Eastgate Square but pays a transit levy of 8 percent or approximately $19 per month.

For comparison purposes, urban properties in Glanbrook have a transit levy of 4 percent, Ancaster pays 2.5 percent, Dundas pays 2.2 percent, and Flamborough pays 1.2 percent.

2015 Residential Tax Rates for Transit by Area
Area Transit Rate % of Full Rate
Hamilton - Urban 0.089% 100.00%
Ancaster - Urban 0.027% 30.34%
Ancaster - Urban with Rural Fire 0.027% 30.34%
Dundas - Urban 0.024% 26.97%
Flamborough - Urban 0.013% 14.61%
Glanbrook - Urban 0.486% 0.045% 50.56%
Glanbrook - Urban with Rural Fire 0.045% 50.56%
Stoney Creek - Urban 0.027% 30.34%
Stoney Creek - Urban with Rural Fire 0.027% 30.34%
Ancaster - Rural 0.000% 0.00%
Ancaster - Rural with Urban Fire 0.000% 0.00%
Dundas - Rural 0.000% 0.00%
Dundas - Rural with Urban Fire 0.000% 0.00%
Flamborough - Rural 0.000% 0.00%
Glanbrook - Rural 0.000% 0.00%
Glanbrook - Rural with Urban Fire 0.000% 0.00%
Stoney Creek - Rural 0.000% 0.00%
Source: City of Hamilton - Residential General and Area Specific Rates By Community

Unfair to All Taxpayers

It is irresponsible and unfair to all taxpayers for Council to defer a decision to address this problem, even for the initial step of drawing transit boundaries that are more in line with our existing transit services.

Can we not simply take a map, stick a pin in it, and capture all the properties within a reasonable walking distance to a bus stop that has a minimum 30-minute service frequency? That could become our Transit Catchment Area #1.

From there, Council can further the discussions on one appropriate funding rate to ensure an equitable transit levy throughout our amalgamated city. That is how the levy works for police, fire, recreation, sidewalks and other municipal services. Many of those services were also area rated after amalgamation but Council phased out area rating for all but transit starting in 2011.

That decision was made after the first Citizens' Forum on Area Rating presented its recommendations to Council. Just last week, another Citizens' Forum, this one on Transit, made a similar recommendation:

There is a whole city perspective to city building by improving transit across Greater Hamilton that warrants consideration of a change to the area rating of transit.

Failing to ensure we are operating with a true Transit Area boundary system as a basic minimum has cost us millions of dollars in lost revenues just in the last few years - estimated at $7.5 million in lost revenue in the last ten years from Ward 10 alone, or $150,000 a month.

As long as this goes unaddressed, the City is losing out on transit revenue, funds that could be used to improve our transit services. Due to Council's fear of "opening up old wounds," the area rating non-discussion will potentially continue to cost us many more millions going forward.

Our elected representatives need to follow the core Values that they have adopted:

Incremental Change

Tackling the broken Transit Area Rated system doesn't need to be an all-or-nothing discussion. We don't need to revisit all the other convoluted components, like rural vs. urban, where there is a lack of agreement that ends up in discussions breaking down and inaction.

Councillors don't need to turn their discussion into a battleground. The discussion can easily be focused and split into palatable pieces with small procedural changes, one step at a time.

The first step could be identifying equitable boundaries and taxing appropriately within our urban areas. Once this is agreed upon and providing some additional transit funds that could be used to improve service, the next step, if Council has the political will, could be a discussion on the whole social/economic/environmental issue citywide.

But right now, we need Council to please take a positive first step! The Citizens Forum back in 2011 asked for this. The Citizens Jury on Transit just last week asked for this. And multiple urban residents throughout the whole city understand the system needs to be fixed and made more equitable in order to ensure sustainable funding.

Consider these messages from members of the Citizens Jury on Transit:

"I would like the City Councillors to put real weight on the recommendations. I want them to realize that our opinions were well-informed."

"I was very happy to represent Ward 10 ... I only hope that the recommendations that we present to City Council will help shape the decisions that will be made."

Property taxes, like it or not, are not a fee for service but rather a way of distributing the cost for local public services and programs throughout the municipality. A good start is a more equitable distribution of the cost throughout all of our urban areas.

Council harmony is very important. But in this case, is it more important than doing the right thing?

Pre-Amalgamation Hangover

One final thought on how our transit area rating is a hangover from pre-amalgamation days - a system that just got adopted holus-bolus at the time of amalgamation and 16 years later it still reigns.

All riders pay the same fare and can travel anywhere the HSR goes, but the tax levies and area ratings vary by former municipality. That's why the Barton bus stops just short of Grays Road in the Creek and loops back around, even though Barton Street continues on out to Winona.

The Barton bus runs every 7 minutes in Hamilton, but if you want to go further east along Barton - say, to Mohawk College campus - you have to wait/switch at Bell Manor to the Stoney Creek 55, which runs every 30 minutes.

On the flip side of this route, for those of us that are heading west into the former city, we only have to wait at the same loop to catch that Barton Street bus which runs every seven minutes. Stoney Creek users have better service heading west than Hamilton users have heading east.

Under our current tax system though, to improve this service for the Hamilton transit users who want to keep travelling east on Barton, the service enhancement is considered to be in Stoney Creek and the whole cost is solely paid by Stoney Creek properties. Talk about backwards.

Viv Saunders has loved living in six different wards of Hamilton. She is a Chartered Life Underwriter, Certified Financial Planner and Chartered Financial Consultant, wife, mother of two and has recently been utilizing her life experiences to become an informed and actively engaged citizen.


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By council (anonymous) | Posted March 08, 2016 at 14:59:04

But, Viv, some on council are afraid of [your] questions. They're not alone, RTH

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By jim (anonymous) | Posted March 09, 2016 at 04:53:12

Eisenberger has no appetite for equity or progress, preferring to masquerade the image of harmony on council. If it is a difficult decision, just kick it down the road. Courage and responsibility are absent in our civic leaders

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted March 09, 2016 at 09:18:42

I am amazed at the difference between what the different areas in Hamilton pay and I already knew that your Area Rating System must go if HSR is to survive in the medium to long term. However, what was more amazing is that here in Ottawa, I'm paying 3.78 times per month for transit what your top rate is in Hamilton. On top of that O.C. Transpo and Para Transpo cover 17.1% of the total tax bill. Wow!

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted March 09, 2016 at 11:25:49

Wait, Dundas only pays 30% of the bus rate? But urban Dundas gets great service thanks to the 5B. How do they justify that?

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By Suburbanite (anonymous) | Posted March 09, 2016 at 13:46:52 in reply to Comment 116923

Dundas used to pay 22% of Hamilton's rate back in 2011. As their service improved, so did their transit levy since it is based on what percent of the Total Mileage Cost is travelled in Ward 13. In 2015 is it now 27%.

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By another surbanite (anonymous) | Posted March 09, 2016 at 15:28:49 in reply to Comment 116926

Its fine to use that formula but whats needed is to exclude the rural areas and make all urban areas 100% funded while improving service. We shouldn't be getting a break because our wards are split urban/rural. Only the rurals should get that break and watch how fast we demand improved service

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By Time to Grow Up (anonymous) | Posted March 09, 2016 at 11:57:21

Public Transit is a public good. Period.

Enough with the free riders in this ridiculous area rating set up. Councillors are elected to make decisions. This crew is too full of job for life ward heelers. Time to do the right thing for once.

No other city anywhere operates like this. In case you haven't noticed we're not outperforming any of them.

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By another surbanite (anonymous) | Posted March 09, 2016 at 15:33:10

Can the city afford to give us equal service for equal payments?

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By DavidColacci (registered) | Posted March 09, 2016 at 19:36:43

If this city of Hamilton is to start acting like a city, the divisiveness of the fractured Ancaster, Glanbrook, Dundas, Stoney Creek, Hamilton bullshit has to end.

We are one city. We are Hamilton.

It is well beyond reasonable time that we all contribute to our city's success. A successful core, east, west and south ends of our city are good for all of us.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted March 09, 2016 at 20:56:59 in reply to Comment 116934

A successful core, east, west and south ends of our city are good for all of us.

Try explaining that to the guy who lives in Dundas, works in Dundas, and never goes beyond Longwood in Hamilton unless they really need to. They're content living in Dundas, shopping in Dundas, Ancaster, or Flamborough, but not in Hamilton, except for the west end.

I have a very hard time discussing these types of things with my folks who are lifelong Dundas residents and don't really spend time in Hamilton unless they're visiting my family. They don't use transit, they're retired, and they don't understand why their taxes spiked so that they can "pay for Hamilton's issues". Remember, amalgamation was a real sore spot (and still is!) for residents. They saw their services like snow removal, garbage collection and the like take a real quality nosedive after the supercity and don't get why they are required to pay more to get less.

They may have worked in Hamilton, but they certainly don't spend time there.

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By Suburbanite (anonymous) | Posted March 10, 2016 at 08:09:26 in reply to Comment 116937

" They're content living in Dundas, shopping in Dundas, Ancaster, or Flamborough, but not in Hamilton"
"They may have worked in Hamilton, but they certainly don't spend time there"

How do we fix this?
The City of Hamilton Wards 9 to 15 residents and the City of Hamilton Wards 1 to 8 residents still have the perception that the City of Hamilton boundaries are exclusive from each other. Dundas, Ancaster, Stoney Creek, Glanbrook and Flamborough are Hamilton.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted March 10, 2016 at 22:18:03 in reply to Comment 116943

It's a great question. I think you need to make them see a reason to travel there, instead of the places they're used to going to. I can tell them about a great restaurant I went to on King William, but they'll complain it's too difficult to find parking or navigate. I can tell them about a great little store that sells something they can't get elsewhere, and they'll just go without. I don't know that there is a silver bullet to it, but we also can't just wait for the boomers to die before we move on.

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By hamiltoncynic (anonymous) | Posted March 10, 2016 at 06:54:07 in reply to Comment 116937

These suburban residents need to understand amalgamation was forced on Hamilton too. It's a "sore spot" for all of us. You think we wanted a system where every proposal to improve the core gets chewed up and vetoed by suburban councilors out of spite after we spent decades helping pay for their highways? And amalgamation was imposed by the Conservative Harris government. Guess what areas voted for Harris? Not the old city, that's for sure!

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted March 10, 2016 at 22:20:08 in reply to Comment 116941

That's a great point but I think that by adding 1 councillor each for Ancaster, Dundas, Flamborough, Glanbrook and Stoney Creek are able to hijack the majority of council. It ends up eating itself though through the infighting and pandering. It needs fixing but it requires councillors more concerned about the greater good than their individual wards, or about a need to get re-elected. But you must also balance that with actually listening to your constituents, and sometimes it's telling them about the big picture - many can't see the forest for the trees.

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By misinformation problem (anonymous) | Posted March 09, 2016 at 21:55:23 in reply to Comment 116937

Problem is, under the old system their area was being heavily subsidized by the region/province. The pre-amalgamated communities were NOT self sufficient. That perception is what drives this misplaced disdain for the city. You know, we all pitch in for the highway to Wawa without complaining. We need to apply the same maturity to local transit. Just because you don't use it doesn't mean we shouldn't have it. It's so childish.

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted March 10, 2016 at 22:32:58 in reply to Comment 116940

this is such a key point that NEVER gets brought up by folks in the suburbs. They want the old region of hamilton-wentworth when they say 'le'ts de-amalgamate'. I want 100% full de-amalgamation, not the regional set-up where the old city paid for 75% of everything out there. Waterdown would go bankrupt in a year or two if they were 100% on their own to figure out how to pay for all their massive infrastructure with no economy and their tiny population.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted March 10, 2016 at 22:21:50 in reply to Comment 116940

I agree but I'd like more clarity on your point about subsidies. Can you point me in the direction of where there's information on this? Thinking specifically about roads/infrastructure or services provided.

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By Cultosaurus (registered) | Posted March 10, 2016 at 08:40:18 in reply to Comment 116940

This x1000. This very fact is the reason we need to do away with area-rating nonsense.

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By What's Your Point (anonymous) | Posted March 09, 2016 at 21:23:41

I live in Hamilton and I don't use transit. So using your logic I shouldn't pay right?

Public transit is a public good.

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By Suburbanite (anonymous) | Posted March 10, 2016 at 08:57:52

Maybe the question shouldn't be Do we Use it? Maybe the question should be do we want it? Do we want the city to run buses? If the answer is Yes, then it is no different than Snow Removal. Snow Removal has different levels of service. The main streets are cleared first, then school bus routes and so on to where the courts in the suburbs generally have poor service. But, we all pay the same tax rates for Snow Removal. Transit is no different in my opinion.

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted March 10, 2016 at 11:15:26

I think council has a responsibility to shave Mayor Eisenberger's face. He looked like he took a break from spanging outside the liquor store to meet up with the CEO of IBM Canada last Tuesday. Brutal. Get a grip Hamilton city council you are on the radar!!

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By another surbanite (anonymous) | Posted March 10, 2016 at 13:37:19

This is 1000% false

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By z jones (registered) | Posted March 10, 2016 at 14:21:53 in reply to Comment 116949

Nice try Allan, you're 1000% false.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted March 10, 2016 at 14:54:37

I think the worst part of area rating is that it is also costing us provincial money.

Without sufficient local revenue being funded into the HSR, Hamilton has seen the growth of its public transit system stagnate compared to neighbours such as waterloo, Mississauga, and Brampton.

The provincial gas tax is allocated to cities based on their proportionate number of transit users. As the cities around us increase he number of trips taken on their system, if we don't keep up, we get an ever-shrinking slice of the pie.

Starving the transportation system of local funds by maintaining area rating is hurting our ability to grow trips, which in turn decreases our share of the gas tax.

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