Tuesday, November 11, 2008

bus hike

CATCH News – November 9, 2008

Planned bus fare hikes revealed

City staff are calling for bus fare hikes of $60 a year for adult and student passes, and a 10-cent-a-ride increase on tickets and cash payments. Seniors fares would rise $10 a year. The HSR and DARTS hikes would take effect on January 1 and come on top of two much larger increases imposed in the last 18 months.

The higher fees will be discussed by councillors at a special budget meeting on Friday morning, along with some HSR service improvements funded by provincial grants, the introduction of free transit for people over 80 years old, and a discounted summer student pass.

Staff calculate that the city’s transit operating costs will rise by $3.7 million next year. The proposed fare hikes plus an expected one percent growth in ridership and other savings would cover $3.5 million, leaving just $213,140 to be added to taxes – or about one dollar extra on the average home.

However, the “pending transfer of the HSR pension plan to OMERS [Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System] requires a projected contribution of $2.1 million annually”, notes the report. That would mean another $13 per home in taxes, for a total proposed increase of $14 a year.

The fare increases will raise the adult pass price by $5 a month – from $79 to $84 – and the elementary and secondary student passes from $63 to $68. Eighteen months ago, the adult pass was $65 and the school pass stood at $50.

For a car-free family of four with both parents using the HSR as well as their two children, the increases would add over $200 a year to their transportation costs. If the proposed increases for 2009 were to be covered by taxes, the cost would be about $6 per household if applied across the city. That approach was argued for last year by some councillors, but ultimately rejected.

The HSR wants to introduce two new passes in 2009.

The “Golden Age Pass” would allow seniors over the age of 80 to ride the buses for free. Staff believe this would cost the HSR only $41,000 a year – partly because of the small number of eligible individuals, and partly because seniors currently pay $206 for an annual pass – about one-fifth of the regular adult passes. The seniors pass is proposed to rise to $216 a year in 2009.

A new “Summer Youth Pass” for students under 19 is expected to pay for itself in increased ridership. It would be valid for July and August and cost $129, which the report describes as “a 50 percent discount from the regular cost” – although even alternative adult passes would only cost 30 percent more.

“This program will make it easier for youth to take advantage of recreational and leisure activities by reducing reliance on the private auto (through a parent-provided trip or borrowing of the family car),” argues the report. “Youth on transit is regarded as the highest opportunity for increased transit ridership.”

Staff are also recommending extension of the new Rymal Road bus route to Eastgate Square in the east and the Ancaster Business Park in the west. The cost of the expanded service – which will run only on weekdays during peak hours – is a little over half a million dollars, with the monies to come entirely from provincial gas tax payments to Hamilton.

The city will also spend $59,000 to provide some additional DARTS service on weekends and statutory holidays. DARTS fares are recommended to increase by 10 cents a ride, a move that transit officials believe will generate $42,000 in additional revenues.

Expected changes to provincial law are forcing the city to allow DARTS users to buy tickets and passes at the same price as adult HSR riders, or to use the seniors annual pass instead of the higher-priced cash fare system currently in place.

“There is an urgent need to address service harmonization between and HSR programs, particularly in view of pending provincial legislation, through the amended Ontarian’s with Disabilities Act expected to be introduced in 2009,” explains the report.

Council normally receives citizen presentations before it adopts its budget, but that opportunity is not scheduled for the 2009 budget until the latter half of January – long after the scheduled finalization of the transit budget later this month.

Friday’s meeting agenda includes three requests from poverty advocates to address the committee – although they will require permission from councillors to speak. Normal practice allows any citizen to make such an application to speak and by approved if they send their request to the city clerk by noon on the day before the meeting.

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.

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