Transportation

HSR Needs Funding, Not Belt-Tightening

By Don McLean
Published November 13, 2008

The Hamilton Spectator's opposition to another bus fare hike is most welcome and well-founded. But their "solution" of asking the HSR to further tighten its belt is not practical.

The HSR has been forced to cut back almost continuously for the last 20 years by councils that see transit as little more than social assistance. In the 1990s, the HSR budget was slashed by 40 percent, and even today, despite years of provincial gas tax subsidies, it is still 20 percent lower than it was in 1994.

Comparisons with other Canadian municipalities show that the HSR is already one of the lowest cost-per-ride transit systems in the country. Unfortunately, that's meant poorer service.

Many routes run for only seven hours a day with no weekend service. Basic tools such as marketing and passenger counts have been largely eliminated. Routes tour across the whole city - one going from downtown Stoney Creek to Ancaster with four different branches, and another meandering from Meadowlands across the mountain to the steel mills via Ottawa or Kenilworth.

The fare hikes, after deducting the lost ridership caused by them, will generate only $1.29 million. That's could be covered by a tax increase of only $6 per home. Nearly every other city in the greater golden horseshoe is vigorously expanding their transit systems. They understand that good bus service supports existing businesses and attracts new investment, in addition to its environmental and social benefits.

Most Hamiltonians understand this too, as shown by the overwhelming support for the light rail rapid transit proposals. But many councillors say the money has to come from somewhere else, that Hamilton can't afford such improvements - which helps explain why other municipalities are a higher priority for provincial transit investments. Queen's Park helps those who help themselves.

We cannot afford not to dramatically improve our transit system. The health impacts of air pollution, looming climate chaos, an aging population, an energy-constrained future and especially the economic meltdown are each powerful arguments for investing much more in the HSR and DARTS.

This blog entry was also published in the Hamilton Spectator as a letter to the editor.

Don McLean is chair of Friends of Red Hill Valley and coordinator of Citizens at City Hall, a volunteer group that has monitored city affairs since 2004 and distributes free news articles via email. The group can be contacted at info@hamiltoncatch.org.

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By gullchasedship (registered) - website | Posted November 13, 2008 at 10:16:42

Only $6 per home? They're already talking about a 9% increase. What kind of social-ist state is this, that the homeowners need to pay for everything in this city?

Transit is fine, but there needs to be a user pay element to it.

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By Smacky (anonymous) | Posted November 13, 2008 at 10:23:08

"Needs to be a user pay element"?

Have you heard about a thing called "bus fare"?

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By Nookie (anonymous) | Posted November 13, 2008 at 11:34:06

"What kind of social-ist state is this"

Ha-ha! You clearly don't know what social-ism is if you think it's social-ist to fund essential public services like transit.

I guess you also want drivers to pay the full price of the roads they drive on. Oh, you don't? Whyever not?

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted November 13, 2008 at 13:03:09

Dan,

"The HSR has been forced to cut back almost continuously for the last 20 years by councils that see transit as little more than social assistance"

If the HSR has been cutting back almost continually for twenty years then what is driving the increase in costs? In fact, it the were cutting back "almost continuously" for the last twenty years how is it that there is even an HSR left?

"Nearly every other city in the greater golden horseshoe is vigorously expanding their transit systems"

Really? Please name them. From what I can tell they are prepared to enhance their services so long as the money come from Queen's Park.

"They understand that good bus service supports existing businesses and attracts new investment, in addition to its environmental and social benefits"

Downtown has good bus service and GO transit. Yet despite this over the last twenty businesses have chosen to locate in suburban areas while the downtown has declined. What does that tell you about your theory?

"Most Hamiltonians understand this too, as shown by the overwhelming support for the light rail rapid transit proposals"

If most Hamiltonians supported this then how do you explain the HSR having been "forced to cut back almost continuously for the last 20 years". If Hamiltonians supported it so much the "cutbacks" never would have happened.

"Comparisons with other Canadian municipalities show that the HSR is already one of the lowest cost-per-ride transit systems in the country. Unfortunately, that's meant poorer service"

What other municipalities? Please name them and your source for this info. Also, just because it is low cost doesn't mean that it is poor service. It could just mean that it is run more efficiently.

"We cannot afford not to dramatically improve our transit system. The health impacts of air pollution, looming climate chaos, an aging population, an energy-constrained future and especially the economic meltdown are each powerful arguments for investing much more in the HSR and DARTS"

Enough with the "sky-is-falling if we don't invest in our transit systems" already. The Red Hill Valley Parkway was built and the world hasn't come to an end so why should anybody take you seriously anymore?

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By Bork Belly (anonymous) | Posted November 13, 2008 at 14:09:57

"The Red Hill Valley Parkway was built and the world hasn't come to an end" I love the steadily lowering expectations from Red Hill supporters since the highway was finished. A few years ago it was going to renew the city and draw in all kinds of new industrial employers to increase the tax base, now the best they can say is that the world hasn't come to an end. We spent $250,000,000 on a highway that has done basically NOTHING for the bottom line except make it so Multi Area Developments can build a huge subdivision on the East Mountain and youve got the nerve to attack someone who opposed the highway because the world hasn't actually ended (even though they didn't say the world was going to end anyway)? Pretty sad.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted November 13, 2008 at 15:29:09

Don, if transit is as valuable as you say it is, why does the government have to fund it?

The private sector is all about making money, so if there is consumer demand for mass transit, private businesses will provide it.

The money losing routes would be scrapped and the money making routes would get better service.

Another bonus for those who believe in Global Warming, is a better use of resources. Since lightly traveled routes would be phased out, we would not have buses spewing out C02 with little economic gain to show for it.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 13, 2008 at 15:32:39

ASmith - if roads/highways are as valuable as you think they are, why is the government funding them??

I can't believe this same argument is repeated by the same few posters on here time and time again whenever transit is brought up.

It's 'socialist' to fund transit is it?? Seems much more socialist to take $1 trillion from taxpayers pockets and give it to Wall St.

If funding transit is socialism, then so is funding roads. Can we please move past this and actually discuss the substance of the above article.

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By ADowntowner (anonymous) | Posted November 13, 2008 at 17:59:49

First of all, I don't think any logical person would dispute that transit is an important form of transportation.

Perhaps we should look at how it's delivered. For example, look at York Regional Transit. They contract out the operations of their VIVA system while retaining ownership - perhaps this is something that could be explored locally to see if this is beneficial and if it can cap escalating costs/fares?

Secondly, as we saw with the job action at the TTC back in April, riders need a guarantee that their transit system will operate. This is why I personally think Public Transit in Ontario should be declared an essential service. I understand that if transit unions cannot strike they would need to resort to binding arbitration as a last resort. Should Public Transit be declared as essential service, arbitrators need to incorporate in their decisions the region's availability to pay, especially in cities where taxes are high and cities where people's incomes are lower than average and cannot afford exorbitant increases.

I use Public Transit quite frequently and am so eager to see expansion and increased ridership. Public Transit is the way of the future and we need increased investments from higher levels of government and where possible/feasible, the private sector.

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By Grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted November 15, 2008 at 09:59:15

For those who are the most narginalized, public transit is the only form of transportation available, and for many this increase in cost puts them further behind.

Even today, the editorial in the spec is calling for all sides to come together, to solve the problems, yet it is always those at the bottom there are cut while those at the top are not. How can the people take our leaders seriously when they themselves fail to lead the way and take the approprioate cuts in pay, perks, bonuses.

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By Balance (anonymous) | Posted November 15, 2008 at 14:26:13

First of all I never listen to what Don has to say. It is way too biased and mostly based on fiction.

I do believe public transit is a service that the municipality should and must provide. I do believe that as cost go up so should bus fares, not drastically though and I don't believe a 10 cent per ride fare increase is drastic.

One thing that has driven me crazy on RTH is how the Red Hill and all roads get thrown into the debate.

Roads are community life lines, they provide routes for buses, ways for people to move around the community and to their jobs. Most importantly they allow goods to be distributed. If there were no roads, there would be no buses.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted November 15, 2008 at 20:43:42

Jason, if the city introduced tolls on primary roads I would be perfectly happy with that.

The government (or the private owner) would get a steady stream of income to ensure it's upkeep and the taxpayer would see a decrease in his/her tax bill.

The city doesn't offer people free phone lines, free internet, free cable TV, so why offer free roads?

To the extent that we target users, rather than the general taxpayer, society tends to build what the true marketplace is demanding, rather than what politicians think the marketplace is demanding.

If you can tell me why transportation is exempt from the laws of the market, I would love to hear it.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted November 17, 2008 at 09:03:29

By A Smith "Don, if transit is as valuable as you say it is, why does the government have to fund it?"

Is this how you feel about health care as well? Why does the government fund ANYTHING? If the market were such a one-stop-solution, then everything that was truly important would just fund itself via "market forces" and we wouldn't need any public services at all!

How far into oblivion must "the free market" take us before we realize that it is NOT a solution at all?

This isn't about capitalism, or socialism, or anythingism - it's about balancing public spending and recognizing priorities.

To the poster named 'Balance': THe reason roads are brought up here (and elsewhere) is because they represent a huge expenditure, much of which benefits mostly the private automobile.

Yes, goods, services and transit uses roads. But they are a small minority of the traffic. If we were building roads only to pander to them, we would not need the expressway, we would not need 5 lanes on main, we would not need most of the road infrastructure we've built. All of that was built to "keep traffic moving". Traffic being comprised mostly of private automobiles.

Discussion of roads and subsidy of the automobile certainly has a place when it comes to discussing public funding of other modes of transportation.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted November 17, 2008 at 23:35:01

Seancb, I was simply making the point that if something has value with the community, government should not be needed to run it.

Government does not run grocery stores, gas stations, department stores and alike, because all of these services can be provided by private businesses.

If the argument is that government's job is to provide for the poor, then it can do this by outsourcing to private businesses. It does not have to operate anything.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted November 18, 2008 at 16:35:41

Ryan, markets exist whenever there is demand for a product or service.

In fact, markets exist even when the power of government go to great lengths to destroy said markets, namely prostitution, illegal drugs and human trafficking.

If drug dealers relied on the government for their livelihood, they would be out of business, but this is not the case. How do you explain this?

The fact is, human beings are extremely cooperative creatures when left to their own devices. However, because we have been told that we need leaders, we forget this.

In my estimation, all strong leadership has given us are weak followers. People who abdicate their own thinking in order to rally around some cause, which invariably is unrelated to the individual's life.

As to your assertion that arms agreements have reduced the amount of wars, I think you have forgotten about common sense. Nuclear weapons are killing machines and everybody knows that to use them would mean virtual extinction.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted November 19, 2008 at 16:53:35

If government equals mutual trust, then how do you explain WWI, WWII, Stalin's mass killings, Khmer Rouge, etc.

All of these events were initiated by leaders of governments, because government allows crazy individuals the power to harness huge economic resources.

If you can explain to me how giving vast economic resources to people who did nothing to create these resources, then I will agree that government is good. However, I doubt many people believe that handing power over to people whose only goal is to wield it is a wise decision.

Shrink government, allow those who create wealth to keep it (since they are obviously good at making investment decisions) and appeal to people's sense of charity to help their fellow man.

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By Grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted November 19, 2008 at 21:46:02

a Smith wirtes: If government equals mutual trust, then how do you explain WWI, WWII, Stalin's mass killings, Khmer Rouge, etc.

But who actually did the funding of these wars? There is enough information out there that lays blame on the very central bankers that are causing the economic turmoil we are seeing today.

Maybe you should focus on the elements of the shadow government, those that are behind the scenes.

I agree with Ryan, that we have and are seeing a breakdown of mutual trust of our government system, as they seem to be ignoring the people. We have seen de-regulation across the board, we are seeing many struggle and we will see many more struggle. There has been and is a breakdown of the rule of law.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted November 20, 2008 at 00:05:22

Ryan, I trust my parents, my friends, and all those who act in ways I deem moral and good.

I definitely do not trust politicians, police officers and anyone else who claims authority over my life.

Furthermore, the elected officials definitely do not trust the people, otherwise why would they ban handguns? If the people are largely good, then there should be no concern if someone has the means to defend themselves.

If the government trusts the people, why do we criminalize failure to pay taxes? If most people are moral, then all government needs to do is appeal to our sense of justice and compassion, problem solved.

Your belief system is based on the notion that humans are cannibalistic at heart and without government, we would all resort to rape and plunder.

I personally take that as an insult, because I know many people, myself included, that have put themselves at great risk in order to help complete strangers.

Many people have been blessed with caring hearts and love of their fellow man, it's a part of what makes us human. Yes, there are always those who feel it's easier to steal than to earn one's income, but I don't believe that is the majority.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted November 20, 2008 at 10:09:55

Absolutely not. I believe humans are basically reasonable and fair at heart, and that we establish governments to ensure that society operates fairly. Further, I believe strongly that western civilization is becoming progressively more civil, humane, tolerant, and peaceful over time. Steven Pinker explores this in his lecture "A brief history of violence": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ramBFRt1U...

Ghandi once famously said about Western Civilization, that he thought it would be a good idea. I wish he were around today to give us a report card.

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By Clodhopper (anonymous) | Posted November 20, 2008 at 11:11:29

Talk about topic drift, from Transit funding to Western Civilization in just 23 comments..... :o

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted November 21, 2008 at 21:51:44

Ryan, if the rich pay millions of dollars in taxes to the government, how is that free riding?

I think a perfect example of a free rider is a person that stays on welfare for more than a couple of months.

If you believe free riding is a crime worthy of jail time, then staying true to your logic, we should start locking up poor people.

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By Councilwatch (anonymous) | Posted November 23, 2008 at 04:25:13

My question is for A Smith; "Are you a rael person".

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By Councilwatch (anonymous) | Posted November 23, 2008 at 04:27:39

Repeat to undo error, my question is for A Smith;
"Are you a real person?"

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted November 24, 2008 at 00:57:10

Councilwatch, what makes you think otherwise?

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By Councilwatch (anonymous) | Posted November 24, 2008 at 15:28:18

A Smith; the antediluvian content under the name.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted November 25, 2008 at 02:21:02

Councilwatch, I take it you disagree with my position on government. What in particular do you take issue with, perhaps I can help you understand my thinking.

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