By Kevin Werner, News Staff
When Stoney Creek councillor Brad Clark was first elected to Hamilton council in 2006 he managed to get some weekend transit service to his upper Stoney Creek area.
As the area has blossomed and more commercial development has occurred, he now wants transit service in the evenings for employees who are stuck in the area working late at night with no way to get home.
“I have a large commercial district, but I have no Sunday service in the evenings,” he said. “For 20 years (Stoney Creek) has not had Sunday service. We (built) this commercial development for jobs, but we don’t have transit there. It’s an ongoing issue.”
Hamilton politicians are currently examining what transit enhancements can be implemented this year without breaking the budget. The 2014 average tax increase is sitting at about 1.8 per cent, and is projected to dip slightly to 1.5 per cent this week. Some politicians want to get as close to zero per cent as possible this year.
But there are two additional transit routes being proposed by staff, one along Rymal Road, and the other on Stone Church Road, that will cost the city about $2.6 million a year to operate, with a capital cost to establish the routes of about $2.4 million.
Upper Stoney Creek residents will also see a new transit service along Upper Kenilworth from Mohawk to Heritage Green once construction happens along Pritchard and Mud streets. The service was approved last year but has not been fully implemented because the roads aren’t ready to handle buses yet. Transit Director Don Hull said he expects the road improvements to be completed later this year.
Clark says all the transit enhancements would benefit his community and they are warranted. But as politicians try to keep taxes low, he understands the choices each councillor will have to make.
“I don’t think I can sell all of it,” he said. “I hear from my colleagues they don’t want an $8 increase in their taxes. I’m not going to fight Niagara Falls.
Since transit is area rated, if the Stone Church transit service is implemented, it would mean the average homeowner in Stoney Creek would see a $9 increase. If both routes are approved, Stoney Creek homeowners can expect a $21 hike. Hamilton homeowners, for instance, would see a total of $8 extra on their tax bills if both routes are added.
Clark said later some Stoney Creek residents would be upset if their taxes went up. But the entire area would receive better transit service.
“We can come up with a plan (to get) some of the smaller pieces of the pie to move towards the full pie. We can’t do nothing. We need to provide full service, seven days a week.”
City staff will be examining the transit enhancements and the options on how to pay for them. Hull said he would be in favour of raising the fares, but only if the money goes into covering the operating costs. City staff will also show the impact area rating will have on residents’ tax bills based upon the transit choices that are selected. Mike Zegarac, corporate services general manager, said a report will be provided to politicians after the March break.
“We have to make a decision,” said Clark. “I’m confident we can come up with a suitable plan.”