Is Council Getting Cold Feet on Transit?

For the past couple of months we at Environment Hamilton has been working hard for Hamilton City Council to Fix the HSR. The issue of transit in Hamilton is not a simple one, but there is one conclusion we can come to easily: We need to improve and expand transit.

“I want to shut this whole transit expansion down.”

“I will support nothing more with transit until we focus on one thing and get the one thing right.”

  • Councillor Loyd Ferguson, Ward 12

Next week Environment Hamilton and the Social Planning & Research Council of Hamilton (SPRC) will be releasing an information package on HSR ridership and funding trends.  It will show that, while ridership has been on a steady decline for decades, the latest data indicates this is bound to change. Young Hamiltonians are not only taking transit more, but they’re driving less. In fact it looks like Hamilton has hit “peak driving” and that, in the coming years, more and more Hamiltonians will choose transit, active transportation and carpooling to move around, turning Hamilton into a truly multi-modal city.  

Hamilton City Council has not kept up with the changing times where transit is concerned. Hamilton’s share of the federal gas tax which is meant for cities to use on greenhouse gas emission reduction efforts, is spent primarily on road work. In fact, compared to other municipalities in the GTHA, Hamilton spends the least amount of its federal gas tax dollars on transit on average, at 7%. This is exceedingly low compared to cities like Brampton who spend 28% or Toronto which spends 100%. We’re also below the regional average in how much we pay in municipal taxes that goes towards transit; the average Hamiltonian only has 0.21% of their total annual income go towards funding transit. On top of the lack of funding from sources to truly boost our transit system, council has approved a series of fare increases that puts the burden of funding our transit system (which benefits all Hamiltonians) on those who can possibly not afford it. High fares also acts as a disincentive to potential new riders.

Reactions to the HSR’s request of a 4.1% increase in budget requests for the HSR to come back with a report on what a 3% or 1.8% increase would look like (a motion passed by Councillor Tom Jackson of Ward 6)

To Hamilton’s credit, the municipality has developed a Ten Year Local Transit Strategy. Unfortunately, despite being accepted unanimously by Hamilton City Council in 20XX, it is uncertain whether Council will follow through this budget year with commitments to fund the strategy. This brings us to the quote from Councillor Ferguson above. Councillor Ferguson was not alone on Friday last week in Council Chambers in voicing displeasure for the cost of funding their plan. Reactions to the HSR’s request of a 4.1% increase in budget ranged from praises of Council for already properly funding the transit system (Councillor Chad Collins of Ward 5) to requests for the HSR to come back with a report on what a 3% or 1.8% increase would look like (a motion passed by Councillor Jackson).

“This for me feels a bit obscene that we’re going to tiptoe back from our commitment to our community.”

  • Councillor Matthew Green, Ward 3

Hamilton City Council has cold feet when it comes to funding our transit strategy to strengthen and grow service. The transit strategy has a clear vision and outline on how to get us to where we need to be. This is why we need to make it clear that Hamiltonians want our transit system to be accessible, affordable, and a top priority of our elected representatives. On Monday February 6th we will be hosting an info session on the HSR in Council Chambers to not only present report I referenced here, but to help residents engage and learn more about how to make a deputation to Council on February 23rd as part of the larger annual city budget process.

We need to make it clear to Council that expanding and improving the HSR is something we want and need to make the future of our city better, not a department to impose austerity upon.


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