Tuesday, March 03, 2015

On Cars and Downloading

Last week I wandered down to Hamilton City Hall to see how the Emergency and Community Services Committee was going to deal with a staff recommendation that the Affordable Transit pass be made a permanent program.

This program assists employed Hamilton residents living on low income with the purchase of an adult monthly pass.  The idea of the program, which has been a pilot project for seven years, is to assist individuals with transportation costs so they can find and maintain employment.   These passes are available for $43.50.
Committee enthusiastically endorsed the staff recommendation.  It was approved at Council later in the week.

The approval is a good development; however, the overall picture for transit users in Hamilton isn’t so good.  That is because Council will soon consider a proposal to increase fares beginning in September.  Here is an excellent summary of that development put together by Citizens at City Hall (CATCH) http://www.hamiltoncatch.org/view_article.php?id=1331

Your blogger isn’t necessarily opposed to transit fare hikes.  But if you are raising fares you should at the very least expect service quality to be maintained.  Most jurisdictions are enhancing their transit services.  Hamilton is falling back.

Impacts of Catering to Cars

Hamilton Council like most Southern Ontario Councils is consumed by car culture.  There are, of course, Council champions and supporters for public transit, but the Councils themselves aren’t all that far ahead of former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.  Remember when Ford, on his first day on the job, declared that the war on the car was over.

The shocking amount of dollars spent on road infrastructure documented in this CATCH story https://bay169.mail.live.com/?tid=cm4KqJWx7B5BGsgQAjfeSjEg2&fid=flinbox would suggest that if there ever was a war on the car, it was over long before Ford’s declaration.

There is no limit to what will be spent to move more cars and move them faster.

We can’t repair the infrastructure we have now.  But never mind, we’ll build more. My “favourite” from the CATCH story is the city taking on the full $14 million cost of bridge repair near WalMart on Centennial Parkway North.  This particular expenditure was approved when experts said the road was “in no need of reconstruction.”  Go figure.

Impacts of Downloading

Let’s get back to February 23rd Emergency and Community Services Committee though.  The Committee agreed with a staff recommendation to make changes to the Housing Stability Benefit.

The big change will be that applicants will no longer be able to get help with furniture and household expenses.  These expenses will be removed as eligible items.  In the past they have represented about 17% of the total cost of the program.

It is estimated that not making this change will cost Hamilton municipal taxpayers $700,000. 

Nearly three years ago, the province eliminated the Community Start Up and Maintenance Benefit (CSUMB) and later downloaded responsibility for housing and homelessness programs to Hamilton (and other cities).  

There was a considerable amount of outcry about this.  At first, the province responded by providing transitional funds and eventually made these transitional funds permanent.  But city staff says “uptake” for the program has increased.  In 2014, the program would have run out of money in August but was saved late in the year by a one-time increase by the province.

Let’s be clear this is a cut that will hit many in Hamilton hard.  Other municipalities will have similar problems.

The province needs to look at how this download is impacting residents in Hamilton and across Ontario.

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