in City Hall

The Hamilton Street Railway continues to distinguish itself among peer transit agencies, but for all the wrong reasons.

It’s the worst performing transit agency for ridership growth, it continues to operate inefficient routing based upon travel patterns from the 1980s, it’s finally implementing digital signs in it’s transit terminal – a year late and at a budget of $565,000 for 7 dot matrix and 4 flat panel screen, still can’t get it’s digital clock at the MacNab Terminal working – instead removing it completely, doesn’t provide any open data, and last week HSR’s management drove to City Hall to deliver even more underwhelming news – the HSR’s statistics for PRESTO are significantly behind other transit agencies.

“As of June 2013, PRESTO now accounts for 7.72% of all trips taken.  This number is low in comparison to other Transit Providers who are seeing 60% of the fares being paid for with PRESTO,” wrote Nancy Purser in a report to Council’s Public Works Committee.

HSR users are sticking to paper tickets instead of adopting the PRESTO card.

Two years ago, the HSR “Ticket Office” stopped the sale of paper tickets in the hopes of increase PRESTO adoption, there have been advertising campaigns, and the card fee was waived during promotions.

Change in PRESTO fare policy

During the 2012 transit budget presentation on February 3, 2012, HSR director Don Hull stated the HSR will eliminate the discounted single fare upon widespread PRESTO adoption and only offer a monthly discount rate. At present, PRESTO and paper ticket users are charged $2.00 per ride.

This has changed with HSR staff implementing a semi-discount for weekly users. However, the discount is not enticing except for the heaviest users who are likely already using the monthly pass.

HSR staff are implementing a new incentive to encourage PRESTO use. After 11 rides in a calendar week (Monday to Sunday), all further rides will be free for PRESTO users. This incentive is exclusive of “co-fare” rides; meaning it paying for two persons on one card will not count towards the 11 rides.

Currently, it is cheaper to ride the HSR on tickets if only taking two rides each weekday with no other HSR travel than it is to purchase a monthly pass.

The HSR wishes to eliminate paper tickets entirely due to the cost of their printing and distribution. However, the PRESTO card requires a terminal at the point-of-sale. At present, cards can only be purchased at the HSR Ticket Office on Hunter, City Hall, Dundas Town Hall, or online.

Ridership Growth lowest in Ontario

Hamilton’s public transit system continues to lag behind its comparators in ridership growth, well below the national average of 22 percent growth from 2006 to 2010, and below the population growth of the City from 2006 to 2011 which was 3.05% percent according to census data.

In the late 1980s, the HSR carried over 29 million passengers prior to devastating cutbacks that halved the transit fleet.

Other cities have invested in their transit systems to stimulate growth, Hamilton City Council has steadfastly held the line on the HSR budget.

Council did vote last week to have their Web Redevelopment Committee consider funding open data.

In March, the Minstry of Municipal Affairs updated 2012 ridership numbers and Hamilton recorded another year of declining ridership.

2006 2011 2012 Growth
Hamilton 21,165,302 21,882,479 21,795,884 2.98%
Ottawa 91,839,276 103,500,481 100,982,358 9.96%
St Catharines 4,752,760 5,559,331 5,479,830 15.30%
Mississauga 29,022,030 32,863,821 34,761,489 19.78%
York Region 17,108,258 19,784,179 22,156,780 29.51%
London 18,710,000 22,436,392 23,482,319 25.51%
Durham Region 6,942,129 9,792,256 10,303,467 48.42%
Brampton 10,139,107 16,328,909 18,362,202 81.10%

Source: Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing Financial Information Return data
Built upon: CATCH chart from February

Transit in Election 2014?

Will Hamilton’s underperforming transit service become an issue in 2014? Only time will tell.

Credit: Much of this article builds upon the great work of Citizens at City Hall’s coverage in February.

  1. The City Report is interesting. If you look at the bottom they have their Alignment to the 2012-2015 Strategic Plan and they list what they think this Presto initiative will do to contribute to the stated priorities (A Prosperous and Healthy Community and Valued and Sustainable Services). The brief muddies the waters a bit by being indecisive on what exactly the core benefit of pushing Presto is, especially who beneftis, and accurately describing the overall amount of benefits being derived from this policy decision.

    The brief begins with an Executive Summary that describes the lack of uptake of Presto but doesn’t explain why that’s a problem. If I’m a Councillor I’d like to know what problem I’m solving by giving HSR more money. If HSR were to say, ‘we’re losing money by keeping two payment systems in place’, or ‘we’re losing ridership because people are demanding more Presto flexibility’ that would be a better use of this brief.

    Under the Financial/Staffing/Legal heading HSR misses a great opportunity to demonstrate to Council how much money HSR can either save, by eliminating paper fare media or how much more ridership they can generate by making it easier to get onboard with Presto. Instead, HSR says this will be revenue neutral, with a modest increase per month for ridership and only vaguely says there is “potential” for increased ridership. If I were a Councillor I’d want to know if HSR has done their homework to prove the financial forecasts are accurate. HSR either provide Council with a cost breakdown of the savings they’d have in eliminating paper fare or provide a more accurate forecast in increased ridership. Without actual data, this sounds like HSR is asking for more money, to do basically what they are doing already, without a plan to grow the ridership.

    In Policy Implications header HSR could at least reference their Transit Strategy or a Plan in place that compliments or is coordinated with this request. They could have said, “look, we are not asking for this money in isolation, this extra flexibility is part of the larger Transit Strategy we have to grow the ridership – see Transit Strategy from Council Meeting Date XXXX.” They chose not to reference any other plans. This looks like a one-off ask for more money to patchwork a technical problem that doesn’t move the City’s transit agenda forward.

    I’m no transit expert or even a City Hall watcher. I just read what is presented in front of me. And what’s posted right now has A LOT of questions associated with it. I hope HSR staff come prepared with lots of speaking notes because if I were a Councillor I’d have a lot of questions to pose before I’d start giving out more taxpayer money.

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