Nicole Macintyre, The Hamilton Spectator, (Nov 27, 2008)
Transit riders won't need to dig for extra change in the new year.
Council rejected a recommended 10-cent fare increase last night. The decision locked on a tie vote, meaning the status quo prevails.
An attempted compromise to raise fares by only 5 cents failed 9-7.
"We're entering extraordinary times," said Councillor Terry Whitehead, who argued the city must ensure its transit system is affordable in the coming months. "This is the time that we have to show compassion."
For residents already turning to food banks, even a 10-cent increase is too much, argued Councillor Sam Merulla.
But councillors who supported the fare increase argued taxpayers also can't afford to pick up the extra costs of running the transit system.
"This is a fairness issue," said Councillor Maria Pearson. "We can't keep putting this burden on taxpayers."
The city transit system is funded 53 per cent by the fare box with the remainder coming from the general tax levy. A cash fare costs $2.40. Tickets are $1.85.
Councillor Margaret McCarthy accused some councillors of being hypocritical for rejecting a 10-cent increase because of the impact on riders when they supported a $400 tax increase for Flamborough residents last year.
Mayor Fred Eisenberger warned freezing fares will only make this year's budget increase, now close to 10 per cent, harder to reduce.
"These are tough economic times. It's a question of balance."
While rejecting a fare increase, councillors supported increasing service along Rymal Road. Council also approved two new initiatives, free rides for people over 80 and reduced passes for youth in the summer. Staff will report back on how to fund the programs.
The city is continuing a pilot project offering half price bus passes to the working poor.