Saturday, November 21, 2009

paradigm shift needed for transit

CATCH Articles:

Study says HSR should be expanded

Nov 09, 2009

A comprehensive operational review says the HSR needs to add ten to fifteen buses a year to achieve the city’s transit goals. It also suggests ways to improve Hamilton’s transit system and offers ideas on modifying existing bus routes and service frequencies.

The year long study by IBI Group was commissioned by the city and tracked ridership at all 2264 stops on the HSR’s 32 routes and compared the results to other communities. A summary was given verbally to councillors in a slide presentation on October 29, but the full document has not yet been made public.

The slides say that the HSR is “performing well … given financial and other constraints” but warn councillors that “there are no magic bullets to grow transit ridership without incurring increased costs”. The consultants argue strongly that more spending is what is required.

“A paradigm shift is needed in city thinking and decision making to make transit a priority,” said IBI presenter Brian Hollingsworth. “The HSR is at a crossroads. All policies and plans call for continued growth, but continued financial constraints are a barrier.”

Hollingsworth pointed to the Vision 2020 goal of 100 rides per person per annum by 2020, and the target of the city transportation master plan to reduce vehicle use by 20 percent by 2030. The provincial and federal governments are also supporting transit improvements with gas tax monies.

He noted that HSR ridership is currently at 45 rides per capita per year, down from 47 in 2008. To achieve the 100 target “would require a doubling of service hours and associated funding increases”.

“HSR should be adding 10-15 buses per year to meet this target by 2021,” says the summary, but notes that “concentrating future population and employment in existing transit corridors and other transit supportive policies can reduce the need for service expansion” in meeting city targets. These policies include promoting infill and higher density, reducing parking requirements, and “controlling sprawl of commercial (i.e. big-box) development”.

The study also contends there are good reasons to improve transit services including the “high cost of owning and operating private automobiles” and the fact that gas tax funding for the city “is tied to demonstrated progress on ridership growth.” It also notes that transit promotes economic development because “increasingly companies are seeking to locate in cities that have high levels of transit accessibility.”

While praising the overall efficiency of the HSR, IBI notes that average fares are low because of the large number of riders getting discounted or free trips. They calculate that “44 percent of all passengers have a discounted fare other than an adult monthly pass” and note that “free boardings for persons with personal mobility devices are potentially subject to abuse.”

Reducing this fare “leakage,” IBI suggests, could be an alternative to fare increases. And they urge “discounts for social programs should be treated as such and not funded entirely from the HSR budget.”

Other ideas for savings include “implementing transit priority in the King-Main corridor” which IBI calculates could significantly reduce the number of required buses – each of which costs the HSR $300,000 a year to operate.

Maps in the presentation show possible changes to bus routes and service frequencies as “for discussion”. At the request of city staff the IBI findings have been referred to the transit department for review and a future report to committee of the whole.

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