Area rating is one of those things that happened due to the amalgamation of the region of Hamilton-Wentworth into the City of Hamilton that made sense in the past, and somewhat makes sense today.
But the reality is that for public transit in the city, it’s now doing more harm than good.
Area rating is used to assign specific program costs to different areas within the City for the purposes of taxation. For example, if you live in an area where there is no bus (Hamilton Street Railway) service, you will not be charged a fee to support the service. The result of area rating is that tax rates for certain services vary depending on where you live and the level of service offered by the City.
Before amalgamation the HSR (Hamilton Street Railway) was the public transit operator for Hamilton. If the towns of Dundas, Ancaster, Stoney Creek and others wanted transit in their communities, they had to pay Hamilton to have transit extended into their communities.
In the past it made sense. But in the future area rating shouldn’t be used for transit expansion projects.
Recently the expansion of TransCab service into the community of Binbrook was scrapped. The cancellation came after the majority residents of the community voted not to pay for the service, thus ending it. But for the residents who use the service, they will soon be out in the cold and forced to make other arrangements.
Transit is not a neighbourhood service, and unlike other services where it may make sense for the community to foot the bill, it no longer makes any sense for transit.
In the past another transit expansion, which was highly sought after and was an obvious next step, took a lot to implement because of this area rating.
“Making one part of the city pay for transit improvements in their corner of the map is an out-dated concept and prohibitive to meaningful transit expansion.”
The 5C DELAWARE bus links the east end of Hamilton to the Meadowlands Power Centre in Ancaster, via downtown Hamilton. Previously the bus only went as far as the West Hamilton Loop, a little turn-around in the middle of nowhere. It is somewhere though. It’s at the invisible and now imaginary line that separates Ancaster and Hamilton proper.
With the expansion and explosion of retail options in the Meadowlands Power Centre, it made sense that the area needed to be served by more transit. At the time there was only one bus that went to the shopping centre. The 41 MOHAWK was the only bus that went to Meadowlands, though it only went as far as Ancaster every 80 minutes.
The extension of the 5C bus took a lot of work to get done. Because it added a significant amount of transit miles to the community of Ancaster, it would be the residents of Ancaster who would have to pay for the service through their taxes.
At first glance this makes sense, but in the big picture is makes absolutely NO sense.
While the service runs on the roads within Ancaster, the extension of the 5C bus benefits many more people than just those in that community. A larger segment of the population of lower Hamilton benefited from this extension, cutting the travel time to the major shopping destination in half.
The same thing happened just recently with the expansion of service hours for 44 RYMAL. The route had service added on the weekend for the first time ever, however the bus only runs into Ancaster half of the time on the weekend, with every other bus short turning just outside the Ancaster boundry.
This truncation of transit expansion was a provision tacked on because of the added cost to the Ancaster tax roll. While the service benefits the residents of Ancaster, it is also a major benefit to residents of Hamilton mountain, who are now able to directly access the Ancaster Business Park seven days a week.
Expanded transit is not only a benefit to the community in which it is located. It is also a benefit to the entire city with the improvement of the transit network as a whole.
The cost should be city-wide and not area rated.
Back to the Binbrook TransCab.
According to a public works report, service could cost a resident of Binbrook an estimated tax increase of $88 for Transit, based on the estimated $225,000 annual cost for service and a $300,000 residential assessment.
That’s a LOT, especially given the small size of the community.
The population of Binbrook is 3,614 according to the 2011 census. The population of Hamilton as a whole, according to the same census, is 519,949. Without knowing exactly how the $88 cost was calculated ($88 seems to be high considering the population) if the cost was spread across the entire city the increase would be negligible.
Could taxpayers in the City of Hamilton as a whole, including Binbrook, stomach a tax increase of $0.43 a year to support TransCab? It would certainly be easier to pallet than $88 for Binbrook alone.
Transit benifits the entire city. More or better transit in one part of the city helps the network flow more efficiently and gives everyone better access to all points in the city.
Making one part of the city pay for transit improvements in their corner of the map is an out-dated concept and prohibitive to meaningful transit expansion.
This is about improving transit for the entire the City of Hamilton. Let’s not narrow our focus and lose sight of the bigger picture.