Bus improvements not happening
Jun 12, 2017
Promised transit improvements this year that would have added 34,000 hours of HSR service have been left on council’s budget cutting floor until at least 2018. Most would have taken place in the old city of Hamilton whose residents will still pay more than four-fifths of the HSR budget because of a continuation of much lower transit taxes in the former suburbs.
Council’s decision to delay implementation of the approved ten-year transit plan means HSR won’t achieve its long-standing service standards, and it also won’t add extra capacity for population growth that was supposed to have started this year. The latter was mainly to have taken place in the lower city and to have utilized two-thirds of planned bus expansion.
That included 7000 hours on the King-Main-Queenston corridor where bypasses are most frequent. The abandoned 2017 plan would have seen improvements in both the King and Delaware routes. Nearly 16,000 additional hours were to be shared between the University 51 line and two of the mountain-downtown routes – the 25 Upper Wellington and the 26 Upper Wentworth.
HSR standards require minimum 30 minute service during the day and no less than hourly service in the evening seven days a week. Bus routes must come within 400 metres of at least 90 percent of the residents and workplaces within the defined urban transit area which excludes rural areas and towns like Binbrook.
Insufficient off-peak frequencies will continue on at least eight routes. Four connect the upper and lower city – the 23 Upper Gage, the 27 Upper James, the 34 Upper Paradise and the 44 Rymal. The others are the two routes into lower Stoney Creek (the 55 and 58) and the two main cross-mountain services on Mohawk and Stone Church (the 41 and 43 routes). These would have seen a combined extra 10,000 hours of service if the originally-submitted HSR budget had been approved.
The area rating tax system for transit means improvements on five of these routes – the 41, 43, 44, 55 and 58 – would have meant higher taxes on Stoney Creek and/or Ancaster residents. Along with those residing in Dundas, Flamborough and Glanbrook, most continue to pay less than one-third the transit tax rate borne by those who live in the old city – and they will continue to get poorer HSR service as a result.
While residents of the former suburbs comprise 38 percent of the amalgamated city’s population, they pay just 17 percent of the HSR’s budget. Last month, council approved continuation of this taxation arrangement which has generally been supported by suburban councillors and challenged by their urban colleagues.
For the average assessed house value of $315,000, the taxes paid for HSR operations are $280 per year in the former city of Hamilton. That compares to $86 in Ancaster, $85 in Stoney Creek, $78 in Dundas and $58 in Waterdown. The parts of Glanbrook that have either HSR or Trans-Cab service, including Mt Hope and Winona pay $141 for an average priced house.
The continuation of different tax rates has also blocked improvements in the HSR and a more rational system of routes because the calculation of who pays what depends entirely on the hours of service occurring within each of the former municipalities. That means additional service in one of the former suburbs translates into significant increases in property taxes for the residents of that community because the entire cost of the extra service is borne by those residents rather than spread across the whole city.
A move to provide just Trans-Cab service to Binbrook would have pushed up taxes by $88 a household in that town even though the increased cost was less than half a percent of the total HSR budget. Similarly, an increase in the frequency of the Rymal bus was blocked two years ago by the Ancaster councillor because even the small part of the route in that former suburb would have generated a tax hike in his community that Councillor Ferguson considered unacceptable.