Staff Recommendation: Transit Fare Increase

By Ryan McGreal
Published November 23, 2007

The city has published its agenda for the November 26 Committee of the Whole (COW) on the 2008 transit budget, and it's as we feared.

The big agenda item is the staff presentation "Consideration of a Transit Fare Increase" [PDF] from the Public Works Department.

In typical fashion, the report makes all the right noises about "provid[ing] access to the community and GTA municipalities through an affordable and environmentally advantageous public transportation alternative that is safe, reliable, convenient and professionally delivered."

It waxes enthusiastically about public transit as "a potent weapon in our battle against climate change" that "also helps combat other forms of pollution, including smog." It notes approvingly that "92 percent of urban Canadians think public transit makes their community a better, healthier place to live."

Then the report proceeds with a recommendation that directly and absolutely undermines these goals. Public Works is recommending the following fare price changes to achieve an average fare increase of $0.10:

Proposed 2008 HSR Fare Changes
Product 2007 Fare 2008 Fare Change % Change
Cash fare $2.25 $2.40 $0.15 6.25%
Adult Ticket $1.75 $1.85 $0.10 5.41%
Student Ticket $1.40 $1.50 $0.10 6.67%
Adult Pass $71.00 $79.00 $8.00 10.13%
Student Pass $56.00 $63.00 $7.00 11.11%
Day Pass $7.00 $8.00 $1.00 12.50%
Senior Annual Pass $205.00 $205.00 $0.00 0.00%
University / College $71.00 $85.00 $14.00 16.47%
School Hour Only $225.00 $230.00 $5.00 2.17%
DARTS Fare $2.10 $2.20 $0.10 4.55%

After blaming "energy price volatility", fleet insurance and higher-technology buses for transit operating costs that are rising faster than "new revenue generated from new ridership and cost mitigation initiatives" (i.e. the gas tax transfer, which Hamilton keeps using to cover its operating costs instead of improving service), the report notes that the city's transportation master plan recommends service improvements beyond what the remaining gas tax reserve can fund.

Since increasing tax funding for transit is beyond the ken of Council and ending area rating is "too divisive" to consider (according to Mayor Eisenberger), Public Works is recommending the only other way to cover the operating shortfall.

Lost Ridership

A few things are missing from the staff report, which I hope the Councillors at the COW will ask to see before voting on this steaming pile.

The report notes "the negative impacts that are associated with potential for temporary loss of ridership and further hardship on low-income residents who depend on Transit." In fact it actually complains that this is the main consideration when fare increases are proposed.

However, while the report notes that the fare increases will generate another $1.8 million in new annual HSR revenue, it neglects to quantify the loss of ridership - temporarily or otherwise - and instead recommends a subsidy for qualifying low income riders to offset some of their transit expenses.

Council should ask staff to commit to an projection on lost ridership associated with its recommended fare increase before making a decision on the proposal. In addition, it should report on how this will impact the gas tax money Hamilton receives, since some of it is tied to ridership.

Transit an Investment, not a Cost

Finally, while Public Works does not recommend this option (perhaps understanding the audience to whom they are making their presentation), it offers as an alternative that Council could "mitigate [the fare increase] entirely though a higher levy allocation to transit than the City guidelines".

It notes that this option would lower the "revenue to cost ratio", meaning tax levies would cover a higher proportion of the total budget, and would reduce the tax levies available for other municipal programs.

There's a serious problem with this analysis: transit is an investment, not a cost. Done properly, transit can act as a catalyst for economic development, attracting new investment and generating new tax revenue for the city.

As long as the city continues to regard transit as a cost to be minimized so other programs (like road building) can get more money, we will continue to have these annual battles over fare increases vs. service reductions.

Related - Citizens at City Hall has published an astute analysis that looks at the proposal in the context of previous fare increase proposals by staff.

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. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By jason (registered) | Posted November 23, 2007 at 11:28:58

seems to me that the only way to get council to treat transit properly is to develop a transit system consisting of single occupancy vehicles, high pollution output per person, large cloverleaf on/off ramps and always increasing congestion and slow commute times. A system like that would free them up to pump billions of dollars into it.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted November 23, 2007 at 13:23:16

LOL, everyone goes on about the cloverleaf interchanges... the reason they exist is because of the idiot who can't obey traffic lights. I believe that at Greenhill on the RHCE there's an straight interchange which functions great. As far as getting Council to treat transit properly, I have a better solution. Vote for a councillor that cares about transit and then make sure that they speak up about it and hold them accountable. There are to many people in council and on the city payroll that have been there since the 70s. Granted they're "wiser" but they're also older which means they're wise in old ways of thinking. A revolution of thinking is what's required.

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted November 23, 2007 at 15:14:26

Don't think the subsidy will help restore the lost ridership either. The people who stop taking transit are the ones who have other options.

So pathetic, so typical.

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By wondering (anonymous) | Posted November 23, 2007 at 20:21:17

you sure wonder at how they can pay for a system that makes the general public pay the full price on cash fares and monthly passes . compare this one at presant we pay 71/mth but the university passes $71 for 9mths thats 7.80 per mth no wonder there wanting a fare increase

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By markwhittle (registered) - website | Posted November 26, 2007 at 09:59:57

Fare increases have the same effect as a strike, which causes the loss of over 500,000 riders. The HSR has been digging their own hole by paying ever increasing wages to their staff instead of the lower cost of flexible hiring practices. It's union stoogery run amok.

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