Tuesday, November 27, 2007

no tax transit (riders pay more)

New routes, another fare increase(!) and no taxes to help pay for transit...

CATCH News – November 27, 2007
Fare hikes chosen over higher taxes
The bus fare hikes approved yesterday could have been replaced with a $12 annual tax increase on most households according to city treasurer Joe Rinaldo. Instead regular HSR users will pay $96 a year more to ride the bus next year.
The fare increases will take effect on January 1 if finalized tomorrow evening by council. They include rises of 15 cents on cash fares, 10 cents on tickets, $8 on the monthly adult pass and $7 on the monthly pass used by elementary and secondary school students.
Brian McHattie, one of four councillors who opposed the fare hikes, argued that it made more sense to use taxes to collect the $1.8 million a year that the fare increases are expected to generate for the HSR.
Rinaldo presented tables to the meeting showing the impact on average taxes with and without the fare increase. For a $200,000 home in Hamilton the difference would be $12 a year. The cost to suburban residents would have been about $3 in Ancaster, and $4 in each of Dundas, Stoney Creek and Glanbrook.
Each former municipality pays a unique transit tax rate based on how many miles of HSR service occurs there. Thus an average home in Hamilton this year pays $174 for HSR, while urban residents of Ancaster in the same value home pay $36. The comparable rate in Dundas is $41 and $53 in Stoney Creek.
The new fare hikes come only six months after similar ones that were imposed in July. The adult monthly pass that cost $65 in June will by $79 in January of next year – an increase of 21 percent, while monthly school passes will be up by 26 percent over the prices earlier this year ($63 instead of $50 a month).
HSR fare prices have risen faster than inflation since the mid 1980s. In 1985 riders paid 90 cents a ride. Inflation would push that to $1.58 in 2007. Most of the increases took place before 1998 – the point at which cash fares hit $2.00 a ride.
Despite the fare hikes, the inflation-adjusted amount spent on the HSR is about 20 percent less this year than it was in 1994. The transit budget is mainly funded by fares and city taxes, with some federal and provincial funding starting in 2005.
Councillors also decided yesterday to establish a transit subsidy program that will give up to 809 low income people a 50 percent price reduction on their monthly HSR pass. The one-year pilot program will start in April and is aimed at the 25,000 Hamiltonians defined as “working poor”. Some limited assistance with transit fares is already available to an additional 25,000 residents receiving disability or Ontario Works payments.

CATCH (Citizens at City Hall) updates use transcripts and/or public documents to highlight information about Hamilton civic affairs that is not generally available in the mass media. Detailed reports of City Hall meetings can be reviewed at www.hamiltoncatch.org. You can receive all CATCH free updates by sending an email to info@HamiltonCATCH.org.


1 comment:

dundastar said...

Majority of councillors say fare hikes route to go for HSR
Kevin Werner
Published on Nov 30, 2007

It will cost transit users and most taxpayers more to pay for the city's Hamilton Street Railway system starting next year.

In a 10-4 vote, politicians, during a special committee of the whole meeting this week, approved a 15 cent cash fare hike and a 10 cent increase to both the adult and student ticket fare. The fare increase will be the second in less than a year. There is no increase in the senior annual pass.

"Fare increases and service enhancements, it's a very responsible way to go," said Ward 6 councillor Tom Jackson. "Finally, we have got it right."

The fare hike is projected to raise about $1.8 million in revenue next year when it's implemented starting Jan. 1, 2008.

Don Hull, director of the city's public transit, maintained Hamilton's public transit fare remains one of the lowest in the province. A cash fare will increase from $2.25 to $2.40, while an adult ticket will jump from $1.75 to $1.85 and a student ticket will edge up from $1.40 to $1.50. The DARTS fare will also increase by 10 cents from $2.10 to $2.20.

"We hope this is a reflection of what the community wants," said Mr. Hull. "We considered the council and the community's needs and concerns. We don't want to marginalize the working poor."

The additional revenue is essential to expand the city's public transit service over the next few years. The first new services approved will be along Rymal Road and a new local and commuter transit service in Waterdown. It will cost about $300,000 for the Rymal Road bus service, and another $343,000 for the new service in Waterdown starting in 2008.

The new transit service in Waterdown, an area that has not had public transportation before, will mean higher property taxes in 2008.

Under the area-rated service, Waterdown residents only will pay an additional $33 on their taxes on a home with an average assessment of $205,000. Hamilton homeowners will pay an extra $8, with Glanbrook residents shelling out another $4, and Dundas and Stoney Creek residents paying $3 and $2 respectively. Ancaster residents will not pay any extra taxes for the service.

Ward 1 councillor Brian McHattie, one of four councillors who voted against the fare hikes, said by raising homeowners' taxes, the city could halt increasing the fare increases.

Without the fare increases, Waterdown residents were facing a $52 per year increase on their tax bill, while Hamilton residents would have seen a $17 extra jump, followed by Glanbrook with $8, Dundas with $7, Stoney Creek residents paying another $6 and Ancaster adding $3.

"The additional cost is not that much," said Mr. McHattie. "But for the (people living below the poverty line who use transit service) the increase is huge."

The other councillors opposed to the fare increases were Bob Bratina, Sam Merulla, and Chad Collins.

Politicians in support of the fare increase were Mayor Fred Eisenberger because it included service enhancements, Maria Pearson, Robert Pasuta, Russ Powers, Lloyd Ferguson, Dave Mitchell, Scott Duvall, Terry Whitehead, Tom Jackson, and Margaret McCarthy.

Even though Mr. Whitehead voted for the fare hikes and service additions, the Ward 8 councillor remained frustrated that a large segment of his residents will still pay for transit service without getting it.

"There are residents who don't have access to transit but are paying for it," he said. "They have been paying for the service for 10 to 15 years."

Citizens, public transit activists, and city staff met in September and identified the new transit services Hamilton needed to establish throughout the community.

The group's top two priorities for 2008 were providing transit service in Waterdown that will eventually allow residents to connect to the Aldershot GO/VIA station, provide service along Dundas Street and Parkside Drive east of Highway 6 and transfer to Burlington public transit. Mr. Hull said it was important to provide transit service to a community that will eventually have about 65,000 new homes in the area. The Rymal Road service will provide a continuous east west transit link between Pritchard Road and Glancaster Road.

City transit staff are proposing for 2009 new service for Victoria/Wentworth, Upper Centennial, and a Rymal Road extension.

Meanwhile, the bus fare hike, which was opposed by most social service agencies because they say it will disproporiately hurt the working poor, will be the second fare increase in less than a year.

As part of the bus fare hike motion, the city's social services department will create a $500,000, one-year pilot program called the Afordable Transit Pass Program that will allow people classified as the working poor to use public transit at half the fare cost. The program would begin in April 2008.

About 90 per cent of the city's transit service is concentrated in the former city of Hamilton. Residents in Glanbrook and Flamborough - except Waterdown next year - don't receive transit service, and so they don't pay for it under area rating.

After some contentious debate during the 2007 budget negotiations, councillors narrowly approved by a 9-5 vote raising ticket fares by 5 cents and cash fares by 15 cents.

The last bus fare increase was approved by councillors in 2003.