Three things need to happen in order that public transit be properly funded: recommit to the Ten Year Transit Plan, funding and all; use the federal gas tax money the way it was intended; and end area rating so that public transit can be funded properly a
By Rich Gelder
Published February 24, 2017
Chairperson, members of Council, ladies and gentlemen.
It's very good to be back, making my annual visit to City Hall give input on the 2017 budget. It's always a pleasure to come back and renew acquaintances.
And once again I come before you as a rate-paying resident of the suburbs - Dundas, Ward 13 in my case. I had the great pleasure of taking the #5 Delaware to get here this afternoon and look forward to getting home on the #52 Pirie at Governor's Road.
Ladies and gentlemen of Council, transit is one of the most important services a complete city can provide. It is a convenience for me, who otherwise has the option of driving a private vehicle, or even ride a bicycle when the weather is a little warmer and I don't have to put on a nice suit.
However, for others it is their only alternative for getting around town to school, to employment, to medical appointments. Indeed, transit and its proper funding need to be viewed continuously through a prism of not only being a utility, but a vital social service. And it needs to be funded properly.
Three things need to happen in order that public transit be properly funded. The first - recommit to the Ten Year Transit Plan, funding and all. Second, use the federal gas tax money the way it was intended. And, third, end area rating so that public transit can be funded properly and fairly.
First, the Ten Year Transit Strategy approved by this very council in March of 2015. The report spoke specifically to the fare/tax levy balance recognizing that "transit provides value to both transit users and property taxpayers through reduced congestion and delays, positive health, environment and community impacts".
Having said that, the plan called for a move towards a greater balance between the two funding sources, which entailed significant fare increases in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 with fare increases tied to consumer price index thereafter. These are significant increases and will hit lower income residents, those for whom transit is the only option, harder than most.
Now council and ratepayers must do their share. They must honour the funding commitments made in the Ten Year strategy to ensure that the capital and operating expenses of public transit are funded adequately, fairly and properly. Let's not forget, and you are seeing proof in front of you, that ratepayers and users are often one and the same.
Second, the Federal gas tax fund. As you are aware this is money from the federal government from gas taxes that is used for a variety of infrastructure projects. The idea, as I understand it, is that the funds are used towards projects aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
As I also understand it, a vast majority of Hamilton's portion of the federal gas tax fund is allocated towards road maintenance. Now we all want nicely paved roads whenever and wherever we can get them, but the city is lagging far behind other municipalities in terms of this revenue source being used on public transit.
If we are serious not only about properly funding transit, but making a significant dent in greenhouse gas reduction, much more of this money should be allocated towards transit improvement.
Finally, it is long past time to end area rating for public transit in Hamilton. I say this as a suburban resident whose tax bill is area rated and as someone who has more limited transit service living in the suburban hinterland.
I am telling you, I am willing to pay a larger share on my property tax bill in order to properly fund transit. And I will support any suburban politician, my own Councillor included, who has the intestinal fortitude to do the right thing and support an end to area rating.
And to those who oppose ending area rating as a means of riling up a political constituency I say to you, "this is not good city building". We need to pull together for public transit, all for one and one for all.
I will leave you with one of my favourite quotes and one with which I sign all of my personal and professional e-mails. It comes from Enrique Peñalosa, who is currently the mayor of Bogota, the capital of Colombia and goes:
An advanced city is not a place where the poor move about in cars, rather it's where even the rich use public transportation.
Ladies and gentlemen of Council, thank you for your time and please, for every person in all areas of the city, regardless of postal code, income or social status, do right by public transit.
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