Hamilton would be a better place to raise a child and age successfully if city councillors realized that public transit is so much more than a budget expense. Public transit has strategic value that can bring key policy objectives within reach.
Vision Zero is one of these objectives. According to the city website, Vision Zero seeks to achieve “an ultimate goal of no deaths or serious injuries on roadways.” Getting to Vision Zero requires “safer streets through improved education, enforcement, engineering, evaluation and engagement.” Do you notice anything missing?
The Vision Zero approach to road safety originated in Sweden. Gothenburg, a Swedish city of less than one million, boasts a transit share of motorized trips at 24 per cent versus 34 per cent for private vehicles. This is not out of the ordinary for Swedish cities. In Hamilton, by contrast, only seven per cent of trips are by bus versus about 85 per cent by automobile.
Hamilton’s Vision Zero website reports there are more than 7,900 vehicle collisions annually resulting in 16 fatalities, 1,824 injuries, and 6,060 incidents of property damage while carrying a social cost of a staggering $608 million. Public transit can change that.
The Centre de recherche du Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montreal released research in 2017, and while acknowledging limitations, concluded: “This study suggests that there is great potential for road safety improvement if there is a modal shift from car to bus since bus is the safer mode not only for vehicle occupants but also for pedestrians and cyclists.”
The Montreal Chamber of Commerce reported in 2010 that “Compared to travel by car, public transit generates 10 times less accident costs per passenger-kilometre travelled.” They added that a three per cent increase in transit modal share results in an $18.1-million reduction in collisions costs.
If Hamilton could achieve a transit modal share rivalling Gothenburg’s, the annual savings could potentially pay to provide fully funded public transit for the entire city, or at the very least providing very affordable buses and safer streets. Getting to zero road deaths means shifting more people to public transit.
The City of Hamilton routinely cites public health and safety as reasons to increase public transit modal share. Our city councillors have adopted master plans, strategic plans, and other plans to increase HSR ridership. And then they set to work undermining that ambition.
Consider the recent budget news. With ridership down and the service beset with crises, the city has proposed again raising ticket prices 10 cents this year and next. Cash fares are set to go up 25 cents next year.
This follows three successive years of fare hikes and then the city shelving its 10-year transit strategy. This happened just as the city was expected to commit tax dollars to meeting transit objectives. The reason, according to The Spectator, was “delayed arrival of promised federal transit cash.” In other words, council intended to meet their end of the bargain using federal dollars and when the money didn’t arrive the strategy was paused.