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Promised HSR funding in doubt


Feb 13, 2017


Funding commitments made to HSR riders when steep fare hikes were imposed over the last two years now appear headed for the dustbin as city council backs away from its half of the bargain. A key justification for the backtracking is a recent increase in the Hamilton’s tax contribution per person even though the city still remains far behind comparative municipalities.

A ten-year transit growth strategy was adopted unanimously in March 2015 stressing that everyone benefits from the HSR so “customers through fares and taxpayers through levy contributions must jointly share the cost of providing transit”. That principle was translated into large fare increases to cover all the improvements in the first two years, to be followed by the addition of tax monies this year starting with $2.5 million.

Fare hikes of about 18 percent – more than the controversial increases in hydro rates in Ontario – have already been imposed, and council has approved another 10 cent-a-ride jump this September and again in the following September. But now the HSR 2017 budget request for the promised $2.5 million has run into stiff resistance from several councillors.

After hearing the budget presentation, council directed staff to produce options that cut that amount by as much as three-quarters. They also demanded a comprehensive prediction of possible future costs of the rest of the ten year strategy, as well as of LRT operations and the impact of accepting major federal transit funding that requires matching city dollars.

Chad Collins led off the response to staff’s transit budget presentation by declaring that “we still have some of the lowest fares in the province” and concluding that council has already “made significant investments” in the HSR. Pointing to a table in the presentation, he took aim at the Fix the HSR petition being circulated by Environment Hamilton and other resident pressure for more transit funding.

“If you read some of the recent articles that you will find on-line or some emails that councillors received you’d think we haven’t made any investment in the HSR in a hundred years,” he declared. “So I think [staff have] highlighted the fact that we’ve made significant investments even compared to other municipalities in Ontario which council should be commended for.”

The table was an updated version of one first presented two years ago. At that time Hamilton had by far the lowest growth in municipal contributions to transit between 2006 compared to six other Ontario municipalities. The updated chart delivered this year shows a funding bump between 2013 and 2015 that ironically appears to have been unintentionally caused by the fare hikes, but still leaves the city in last place.

The bump definitely wasn’t because council decided to make increases in 2014 or 2015. Instead it was apparently because the steep fare hikes they chose to impose led to a dramatic fall in ridership that resulted in $2.6 million less in revenues than had been expected – “unfavourable variances” that are made up from city funds.

No one challenged Collins’ interpretation of the table, although Matthew Green strongly reminded his colleagues about their 2015 unanimous commitment to the HSR 10-year plan and the promise to fund it. “We’re not being honest with the public if we commit to funding this and we raise the fares, and we pick their pockets [and] then we come back and say, no, we’re going to hold off another year or so,” he stated.

On the other hand Lloyd Ferguson declared: “I want to shut this whole expansion down”. He angrily argued that the city can’t improve the HSR and do LRT at the same time. “I will not support anything more with transit until we get the LRT right and put our energy into managing that thing and get it done correctly,” he declared.

Residents get their only chance to speak on the budget on Thursday, February 23 when public delegations begin at 3 pm. Advance registration is recommended but anyone who attends will have the opportunity to address the councillors.

Changes in Municipal Contribution Per Person 2006 to 2015

Municipality

2006
per capita

2015
per capita

Total
Increase

Percent
increase

Percent
per year

Brampton

$47.73

$96.83

$49.10

103%

10.3%

Mississauga

53.06

95.19

42.13

79.4%

7.9%

York Region

63.78

92.22

28.44

44.6%

4.5%

Hamilton

58.50

75.70

17.20

29.4%

2.9%

Windsor

48.02

67.36

19.34

40.3%

4.0%

Durham

39.15

64.86

25.71

65.6%

6.6%

London

44.63

60.01

15.38

34.5%

3.5%

Source: HSR budget presentation 2016

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