Special Report: Transit

We Need Better than Seat-of-the-Pants Transit Planning

Do city staff have the technology to make accurate assessments of ridership change or is it just guesstimating shaded on the positive side to quell the voices of protest?

By Roy Adams
Published November 27, 2007

In response to a question at the November 26 meeting of the Committee of the Whole (COW) focused on transit fares, city staff said that, despite fare increases, ridership increased in 2007 between 0.5 and 1.5 percent.

That rate is well below the average rate of increase in large urban cities across Canada. The most recent Statistics Canada study of ten large urban transit systems showed an average increase of 5.3 percent.

Although below average, the Hamilton figure is still suspicious.

In its report, the city's Public Works Department made no mention of an increase in ridership, despite the fact that staff were trying to convince COW to repeat last year's transit fare increase.

The transit industry recognizes a well-established relationship between fare increases and ridership losses. In previous reports, city staff relying on these ratios have reported that a 15 cent increase in fares would result in roughly 600,000 fewer rides.

For ridership to have increased last year there must have been a ride gain considerably in excess of the estimated 600,000 loss. Where did this gain come from?

In the recent past, significant ridership increases have come about because of discrete events such as the decision of the students at McMaster to include a transit pass in the student fee structure.

What happened last year to increase ridership enough to overcome the almost certain loss due to the fare increase? Do staff have the technology to make accurate assessments of ridership change or is this just a guesstimate shaded on the positive side to quell the voices of protest?

The staff report leaves us in the dark.

Nor does the report include ridership projections for the proposed new services, nor cost-benefit analyses for various options including holding the line on fares.

What would ridership look like if the enhanced service levels were paid for out of the levy?

It would, almost certainly, increase at a faster rate. If so, what would be the impact on premature deaths due to air pollution?

Would paying for the service enhancements through the levy save the lives of Hamiltonians? If so, wouldn't that alone be worth the extra $12 that the average household would have to pay in order to freeze transit fares?

Don't we deserve more than this half-baked, seat-of-the-pants "just do it and see what happens" approach to a key issue? Shouldn't we expect more before our Council makes decisions critical to the health of our community?

Roy J. Adams, McMaster University Emeritus Professor, is Executive Director of the Hamilton Civic Coalition a group of community leaders dedicated to realizing the city's potential.

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By Myrcurial (registered) - website | Posted November 29, 2007 at 15:10:27

Based on my own daily ridership of the Barton bus, HSR management does not have useful metrics (there is no effort to record what information is available.) The system as it is today is managed so in-efficiently, I would hazard that with only two minor changes, they could save enough money that the increase would not be necessary.

1) Require that drivers admit that the skinny pedal on the right has more than two positions -- "slammed to the floor" and "off" -- Sweden requires drivers to drive sensibly. The wear and tear reductions, the reductions in frequency of brake jobs, the reduction in fuel use.

2) Require that buses adhere to the schedule. It does no good to run a bus over packed (more than 70 people on board) with an empty bus (less than 10 on board) within 1 minute of each other then nothing at all for 20 minutes. There's a posted schedule, please use it. In the last 2 weeks, I have been on exactly 1 on-time bus... and 10 which were overflowing.

Simple solution to a complex problem which does not punish those people who need the service the most.

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By hawkman (anonymous) | Posted December 03, 2007 at 11:29:47

Expecting staff and council to provide facts and figures? What are you, some kind of extrem left winger?

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By Hammy1 (registered) | Posted December 04, 2007 at 14:00:44

Roy's comments have hit the mark. The HSR is notably one of the most secretive departments within the City Hierarchy. Nothing that was promised after the last fare increase has occured save the addition of bike racks to the buses. Mayor Eisenberger ran on a platform of change to City Hall, this was to be a refreshing change to the tenure of Larry DiIanni. Well here is the good news...nothing has changed. The classroom antics of our elected officials continues with absolutely little or no accountablility of staff to the system. Prime example is the HSR where under the direction of Mr. Hull little is done to improve the system. In fairness to Mr. Hull a shortage of funds does make his job somewhat more difficult, but many simple improvements which do not require vast sums of revenue are not done to make our transit system viable. Once again it is the working poor who will pay dearly for the ineptitude of the city councillors and staff. Wake up Hamilton...it is time to elect people who do care and are willing to put the heat on for better services.

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By fowgre (registered) | Posted December 12, 2007 at 14:59:41

It's hard to envision a fare increase that would not be followed by a drop in ridership. But my understanding is that the allocation of federal gas tax transfer funds is "based exclusively on ridership" (http://www.infrastructure.gc.ca). That being the case, it shouldn't be too much of a surprise if your transit authority is inflating it's numbers. That's the suspicion that I've had with respect to London's numbers. You might like to read my inquiry to the GM of the London Transit Commission which was ignored by that gentleman, and subsequently by London Council's Environment & Transportation Committee: http://frommybottomstep.wordpress.com/20...

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