Tuesday, October 27, 2009

let me take you higher!

Higher fares and dirtier buses

City staff are calling for a 20 cent fare hike for the HSR and DARTS, and switching bus purchases to 40-foot diesel vehicles instead of a mix of 40 and 60 foot articulated hybrids. The proposals were released on Friday and go before councillors as part of the ‘transit day’ budget deliberations on October 29.

The 9:30 am meeting at the Sheraton Hotel was also expected to consider changes to HSR routes proposed by consultants. A presentation on those changes (not yet made public) is on the agenda, but transit staff want no action taken by councillors until staff have an opportunity to respond.

The fare hikes, on the other hand, are recommended for finalization by November 30 so they can be imposed at the start of next year.

“Foregone revenue from a delay in a fare increase beyond January 1, 2010 would be in the order of $100,000 per month,” warns the report.

Staff say their proposals respond to a council directive that limits spending increases to 2 percent for 2010 – equal to a little over $850,000 for transit. Staff say the division is facing $2.1 million in additional costs next year plus a $1.3 million drop in revenue because of fewer riders, and that the combined effect would be amount to an 8 percent hike in spending.

The report doesn’t specify the precise effect on ticket or pass prices, instead only referring to “a fare increase of an average of 20 cents per trip”. Applied across the board, the hike would translate into approximately $10 extra per month on the adult and student passes that currently sell for $79 and $63 respectively.

As recently as June 2007, these passes were $65 for adults and $50 for students. Cash fares are currently $2.40 with adult tickets costing $1.85. The seniors pass is now $205 a year. Any fare hikes approved will also apply to DARTS tickets.

The report says fare hikes “ideally” should be for the purpose of improving transit services, and not to keep down taxes.

“Less desirably, in a challenged fiscal environment, fare increases are applied to meet fiscal goals for program budgets versus strategic goals,” explains the report. “Fare increases where the new revenue is used to offset increases to the general tax levy are detrimental to the sustainability of transit programs.”

Transit taxes are area-rated and only apply to portions of the city that receive HSR service with the vast majority collected from residents of the former city of Hamilton. A $300,000 home there pays $266 a year on their tax bill, while similar valued homes in Ancaster pay $58, in Waterdown $60, Dundas $63 and Stoney Creek $85.

Other recommended measures include purchasing only low-floor ramp vehicles for DARTS rather than the lift-equipped high floor design. Staff are also calling for a delay to increases in the Taxi Scrip program that have been recommended by council’s Advisory Committee for Persons with Disabilities.

Dropping the policy of buying hybrid buses, including some large articulated vehicles, will save $200,000 explains the report, while abandoning the purchase of lift-equipped DARTS buses will conserve an additional $100,000. There is no discussion in the report on the implications of these moves for either air quality or transit services.
Changes to DARTS to meet new provincial human rights rules are to be discussed in a separate report that staff promises for “the near future” but say won’t affect next year’s transit budget.

“However, there will be substantive financial impacts on future budget years beyond 2010 to achieve compliance with the pending AODA legislation as it is currently contemplated,” the report warns.

At this point, no formal opportunities are being provided to allow transit users to comment on the proposed changes, although council committees usually accept individual requests to speak if made by noon on the day prior to the scheduled 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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