Councillors congratulated each other last week on achieving possible unanimous agreement on some minor improvements to cross–mountain HSR service. After multiple debates over the first city–funded enhancements to residential bus service in a quarter century, the proposed changes to the Rymal 44 and Stone Church 43 routes were reduced by more than half and won’t be implemented until September.
Only $400,000 of the $1.2 million annual cost will affect this year’s budget, and that’s more than offset by over $600,000 in unexpected HSR revenue increases in 2013. The amendments mean both routes will now run seven days a week, but their frequency is still far short of parallel bus lines serving the lower city.
Under pressure from Ancaster councillor Lloyd Ferguson, whose residents would pay the largest share of the improved service, a proposal to bump up the weekday daytime service on the Rymal 44 route from 30 minutes to 20 minutes was rejected. And evening buses all week long will come only once an hour rather than the half–hour service that had been proposed.
Ferguson wasn’t at Thursday’s budget meeting that unanimously approved the changes, but he was monitoring the debate from his vacation spot in Arizona. It was uncertain if he would support the compromise at the ratification vote. The Ancaster representative was pressing to keep Rymal weekday service to just once–an–hour during off–peak and evening periods, but HSR staff countered that would create confusion with the 30–minute timing on weekends as well as scheduling inefficiencies.
The Stone Church 43 bus, which is the main route for upper Stoney Creek, will now begin running on Sunday evenings once an hour, and move from the current hourly to 30–minute service during the day on Sunday.
The changes to the two routes still leave them behind even relatively infrequent lower city routes such as Bayfront and Cannon, and far behind the service along Barton Street and the King–Main corridor where there’s a bus every 7.5 minutes all seven days of the week, shifting to once every 15 minutes in the evening. Weekday runs on the Bayfront and Cannon buses have 15 minute head times during the day and no worse than 30 minutes in the evening.
The continued use of lower transit taxation in the former suburbs means the approved changes will add $5 to this year’s taxes of the average value Ancaster home and $3 in each of Stoney Creek and Glanbrook. Those numbers will climb to $15, $9 and $8 respectively while the share in the former city of Hamilton whose residents pay 90 percent of HSR costs will increase by $4 next year.
Transit is the last holdout for the area rating taxation system that is unique to Hamilton where pre–amalgamation hangovers mean average taxes for the HSR range from nearly $300 in the former city to under $75 in Dundas and Ancaster.
The tax arrangement has limited transit improvements to those funded by provincial or federal gas tax monies, or those demanded by large businesses such as the Centennial Parkway Walmart and the Maple Leaf wiener factory. Last week’s decision appears to be the first where council has actually agreed to use new city tax monies to expand HSR service for mainly residential purposes.
While that is offset by last year’s unexpected HSR revenue, there are still tax impacts on suburban areas because the area rating formula is based on miles of service in each former municipality. Ridership increases were modest in 2013 but changes to the way passengers paid their fares helped boost HSR income and reduce the impact of inflationary cost increases in the 2014 budget. V