Hamilton councillors put brakes on some transit service to save taxes

News Mar 05, 2020 by Kevin Werner Hamilton Mountain News

Hamilton councillors trimmed so-called “underperforming” transit routes, including completely eliminating bus service to the Mohawk 4 Ice Centre in an effort to reduce this year’s tax increase.

As councillors struggle to approve a tax hike that is below three per cent, they targeted 28 bus routes that have either failed to have the projected ridership growth or were not cost competitive. The majority of the route changes were concentrated in the lower city in Wards 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, but it also a route in Ancaster, and on the mountain.

“Holy smokes,” said Ancaster Coun. Lloyd Ferguson, who had earlier in the budget discussions asked transit staff to provide a report of all the underperforming transit routes in the city. “It’s a use it or lose it situation. It’s pretty clear by the documents they are not being used.”

He identified route 16 in Ancaster as a service that had few people on the bus. Under the change, the service will end four hours earlier.

One route that was eliminated serves the Mohawk 4 Ice Centre and was identified as “grossly underperforming” by transit staff. Eliminating the service, except for runs on Saturdays, will save about $339,224.

“I do it with some hesitation and reservation,” said Mountain Coun. Tom Jackson, who offered to eliminate the route to the city’s March 3 budget meeting. “Especially at a time when we are trying to increase ridership.”

There are two other bus routes that provide some service for the area that originate from Lime Ridge Mall and travel along Upper Ottawa, said Jason VanderHeide, manager of transit planning. But he acknowledged they don’t stop at the arena.

But the other transit service reductions councillors approved involved time changes, such as reducing service by two hours on Thanksgiving, reducing the service on Boxing Day earlier, and cutting Christmas Day service by three hours. Other frequency changes include eliminating a stop on a Mountain route, starting service on route 11 later or ending a route an hour later. The total savings for this year is estimated to be about $790,00, while the annual savings will be about $1.7 million. The changes are projected to begin in July.

“This is our best recommendations around what we can do to mitigate some costs with minimal impact to our customers,” said Transit Director Debbie Dalle Vedove.

Transit staff pointedly did not come out and support the service reductions, even with councillors repeatedly asking them if they did. Public Works General Manager Dan McKinnon did say that the “timing” of the reductions is difficult, as the city is conducting its (Re)envision study in collaboration with McMaster University. The report is expected to be presented to councillors in June.

As councillors were voting 13-2 to reduce the service hours, transit advocates castigated councillors on social media for considering the idea. They argued councillors should wait until after the transit review is completed.

“This is a constituency out there that is small on social media (that believes) we can’t do enough for transit,” said Ward 5 Coun. Chad Collins. “Even if we triple, quadruple (the funding), it’s still not enough. We need to be cognizant of affordability issues and we need to be cognizant we offer more than one service to the municipality.”

Stoney Creek Coun. Brad Clark said the recommendations are not transit “cuts” but “minor” changes in times.

“That makes complete sense on the operational side,” he said.

Mayor Fred Eisenberger, a strong supporter of transit, agreed the reductions are limited and will not impact riders.

“On balance transit is doing spectacularly well,” he said. “We are making the kinds of improvements that people should be proud. We are not under served.”

Councillors said the 2020 budget will see the city invest almost $6 million in transit, a drop from the original $7-million budget increase as the city enters the fifth year of the 10-year transit plan.

But Ward 1 Coun. Maureen Wilson, who along with Ward 3 Coun. Nrinder Nann opposed the reductions, said she questioned deciding on reducing service on underperforming routes without having the proper review conducted. She said if that was the logic, why not eliminate snow plowing and other maintenance work on seldom used rural roads to cut taxes?

“I don’t think this is a strategic approach,” she said.

Councillors did save the free shuttle service for the Winona Peach Festival that had 10,000 customers in 2019. They also kept operating — for at least one year — the downtown-to-waterfront trolley service at the insistence of Ward 2 Coun. Jason Farr. An attempt to implement a $1 fare for the ride was rejected.

The transit service reductions, plus taking about $400,000 from the reserve fund to prepare for an expected funding change by the provincial government for paramedics this year meant the average tax increase remains at 3.1 per cent, said Mike Zegarac, general manager for corporate services.

Councillors had earlier in the week reduced the average tax increase to about 2.9 per cent, but then they agreed to expand the paramedic and fire services at a cost of over $1 million, boosting the average tax hike above the three-per-cent hump.

“I’m not supporting 3.1 per cent,” said Jackson. “I still think we have some work to do.”

Ferguson was equally adamant at rejecting this year’s budget if the proposed tax increase is anywhere near three per cent.

“We simply have to start making some moves,” he said. “It’s time to make a tough call.”

The 2019 average tax increase that councillors approved was 2.5 per cent, which translated into an increase of $88 for the average residential property assessed at $358,600.

Councillors have scheduled one more budget meeting for March 25 in an effort to get below the three-per-cent threshold in anticipation of an April 1 budget approval.

Hamilton councillors slow down transit service to cut taxes this year

News Mar 05, 2020 by Kevin Werner Hamilton Mountain News

Hamilton councillors trimmed so-called “underperforming” transit routes, including completely eliminating bus service to the Mohawk 4 Ice Centre in an effort to reduce this year’s tax increase.

As councillors struggle to approve a tax hike that is below three per cent, they targeted 28 bus routes that have either failed to have the projected ridership growth or were not cost competitive. The majority of the route changes were concentrated in the lower city in Wards 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, but it also a route in Ancaster, and on the mountain.

“Holy smokes,” said Ancaster Coun. Lloyd Ferguson, who had earlier in the budget discussions asked transit staff to provide a report of all the underperforming transit routes in the city. “It’s a use it or lose it situation. It’s pretty clear by the documents they are not being used.”

He identified route 16 in Ancaster as a service that had few people on the bus. Under the change, the service will end four hours earlier.

One route that was eliminated serves the Mohawk 4 Ice Centre and was identified as “grossly underperforming” by transit staff. Eliminating the service, except for runs on Saturdays, will save about $339,224.

“I do it with some hesitation and reservation,” said Mountain Coun. Tom Jackson, who offered to eliminate the route to the city’s March 3 budget meeting. “Especially at a time when we are trying to increase ridership.”

There are two other bus routes that provide some service for the area that originate from Lime Ridge Mall and travel along Upper Ottawa, said Jason VanderHeide, manager of transit planning. But he acknowledged they don’t stop at the arena.

But the other transit service reductions councillors approved involved time changes, such as reducing service by two hours on Thanksgiving, reducing the service on Boxing Day earlier, and cutting Christmas Day service by three hours. Other frequency changes include eliminating a stop on a Mountain route, starting service on route 11 later or ending a route an hour later. The total savings for this year is estimated to be about $790,00, while the annual savings will be about $1.7 million. The changes are projected to begin in July.

“This is our best recommendations around what we can do to mitigate some costs with minimal impact to our customers,” said Transit Director Debbie Dalle Vedove.

Transit staff pointedly did not come out and support the service reductions, even with councillors repeatedly asking them if they did. Public Works General Manager Dan McKinnon did say that the “timing” of the reductions is difficult, as the city is conducting its (Re)envision study in collaboration with McMaster University. The report is expected to be presented to councillors in June.

As councillors were voting 13-2 to reduce the service hours, transit advocates castigated councillors on social media for considering the idea. They argued councillors should wait until after the transit review is completed.

“This is a constituency out there that is small on social media (that believes) we can’t do enough for transit,” said Ward 5 Coun. Chad Collins. “Even if we triple, quadruple (the funding), it’s still not enough. We need to be cognizant of affordability issues and we need to be cognizant we offer more than one service to the municipality.”

Stoney Creek Coun. Brad Clark said the recommendations are not transit “cuts” but “minor” changes in times.

“That makes complete sense on the operational side,” he said.

Mayor Fred Eisenberger, a strong supporter of transit, agreed the reductions are limited and will not impact riders.

“On balance transit is doing spectacularly well,” he said. “We are making the kinds of improvements that people should be proud. We are not under served.”

Councillors said the 2020 budget will see the city invest almost $6 million in transit, a drop from the original $7-million budget increase as the city enters the fifth year of the 10-year transit plan.

But Ward 1 Coun. Maureen Wilson, who along with Ward 3 Coun. Nrinder Nann opposed the reductions, said she questioned deciding on reducing service on underperforming routes without having the proper review conducted. She said if that was the logic, why not eliminate snow plowing and other maintenance work on seldom used rural roads to cut taxes?

“I don’t think this is a strategic approach,” she said.

Councillors did save the free shuttle service for the Winona Peach Festival that had 10,000 customers in 2019. They also kept operating — for at least one year — the downtown-to-waterfront trolley service at the insistence of Ward 2 Coun. Jason Farr. An attempt to implement a $1 fare for the ride was rejected.

The transit service reductions, plus taking about $400,000 from the reserve fund to prepare for an expected funding change by the provincial government for paramedics this year meant the average tax increase remains at 3.1 per cent, said Mike Zegarac, general manager for corporate services.

Councillors had earlier in the week reduced the average tax increase to about 2.9 per cent, but then they agreed to expand the paramedic and fire services at a cost of over $1 million, boosting the average tax hike above the three-per-cent hump.

“I’m not supporting 3.1 per cent,” said Jackson. “I still think we have some work to do.”

Ferguson was equally adamant at rejecting this year’s budget if the proposed tax increase is anywhere near three per cent.

“We simply have to start making some moves,” he said. “It’s time to make a tough call.”

The 2019 average tax increase that councillors approved was 2.5 per cent, which translated into an increase of $88 for the average residential property assessed at $358,600.

Councillors have scheduled one more budget meeting for March 25 in an effort to get below the three-per-cent threshold in anticipation of an April 1 budget approval.

Hamilton councillors slow down transit service to cut taxes this year

News Mar 05, 2020 by Kevin Werner Hamilton Mountain News

Hamilton councillors trimmed so-called “underperforming” transit routes, including completely eliminating bus service to the Mohawk 4 Ice Centre in an effort to reduce this year’s tax increase.

As councillors struggle to approve a tax hike that is below three per cent, they targeted 28 bus routes that have either failed to have the projected ridership growth or were not cost competitive. The majority of the route changes were concentrated in the lower city in Wards 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, but it also a route in Ancaster, and on the mountain.

“Holy smokes,” said Ancaster Coun. Lloyd Ferguson, who had earlier in the budget discussions asked transit staff to provide a report of all the underperforming transit routes in the city. “It’s a use it or lose it situation. It’s pretty clear by the documents they are not being used.”

He identified route 16 in Ancaster as a service that had few people on the bus. Under the change, the service will end four hours earlier.

One route that was eliminated serves the Mohawk 4 Ice Centre and was identified as “grossly underperforming” by transit staff. Eliminating the service, except for runs on Saturdays, will save about $339,224.

“I do it with some hesitation and reservation,” said Mountain Coun. Tom Jackson, who offered to eliminate the route to the city’s March 3 budget meeting. “Especially at a time when we are trying to increase ridership.”

There are two other bus routes that provide some service for the area that originate from Lime Ridge Mall and travel along Upper Ottawa, said Jason VanderHeide, manager of transit planning. But he acknowledged they don’t stop at the arena.

But the other transit service reductions councillors approved involved time changes, such as reducing service by two hours on Thanksgiving, reducing the service on Boxing Day earlier, and cutting Christmas Day service by three hours. Other frequency changes include eliminating a stop on a Mountain route, starting service on route 11 later or ending a route an hour later. The total savings for this year is estimated to be about $790,00, while the annual savings will be about $1.7 million. The changes are projected to begin in July.

“This is our best recommendations around what we can do to mitigate some costs with minimal impact to our customers,” said Transit Director Debbie Dalle Vedove.

Transit staff pointedly did not come out and support the service reductions, even with councillors repeatedly asking them if they did. Public Works General Manager Dan McKinnon did say that the “timing” of the reductions is difficult, as the city is conducting its (Re)envision study in collaboration with McMaster University. The report is expected to be presented to councillors in June.

As councillors were voting 13-2 to reduce the service hours, transit advocates castigated councillors on social media for considering the idea. They argued councillors should wait until after the transit review is completed.

“This is a constituency out there that is small on social media (that believes) we can’t do enough for transit,” said Ward 5 Coun. Chad Collins. “Even if we triple, quadruple (the funding), it’s still not enough. We need to be cognizant of affordability issues and we need to be cognizant we offer more than one service to the municipality.”

Stoney Creek Coun. Brad Clark said the recommendations are not transit “cuts” but “minor” changes in times.

“That makes complete sense on the operational side,” he said.

Mayor Fred Eisenberger, a strong supporter of transit, agreed the reductions are limited and will not impact riders.

“On balance transit is doing spectacularly well,” he said. “We are making the kinds of improvements that people should be proud. We are not under served.”

Councillors said the 2020 budget will see the city invest almost $6 million in transit, a drop from the original $7-million budget increase as the city enters the fifth year of the 10-year transit plan.

But Ward 1 Coun. Maureen Wilson, who along with Ward 3 Coun. Nrinder Nann opposed the reductions, said she questioned deciding on reducing service on underperforming routes without having the proper review conducted. She said if that was the logic, why not eliminate snow plowing and other maintenance work on seldom used rural roads to cut taxes?

“I don’t think this is a strategic approach,” she said.

Councillors did save the free shuttle service for the Winona Peach Festival that had 10,000 customers in 2019. They also kept operating — for at least one year — the downtown-to-waterfront trolley service at the insistence of Ward 2 Coun. Jason Farr. An attempt to implement a $1 fare for the ride was rejected.

The transit service reductions, plus taking about $400,000 from the reserve fund to prepare for an expected funding change by the provincial government for paramedics this year meant the average tax increase remains at 3.1 per cent, said Mike Zegarac, general manager for corporate services.

Councillors had earlier in the week reduced the average tax increase to about 2.9 per cent, but then they agreed to expand the paramedic and fire services at a cost of over $1 million, boosting the average tax hike above the three-per-cent hump.

“I’m not supporting 3.1 per cent,” said Jackson. “I still think we have some work to do.”

Ferguson was equally adamant at rejecting this year’s budget if the proposed tax increase is anywhere near three per cent.

“We simply have to start making some moves,” he said. “It’s time to make a tough call.”

The 2019 average tax increase that councillors approved was 2.5 per cent, which translated into an increase of $88 for the average residential property assessed at $358,600.

Councillors have scheduled one more budget meeting for March 25 in an effort to get below the three-per-cent threshold in anticipation of an April 1 budget approval.