Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday May 30, 2020
SoBi decision a symptom of a deeper problem
If the SoBi bike share debate that has polarized Hamilton city council, and many citizens as well, was just about money, it would be a one-sided affair.
Uber violates its contract and pulls out. Annual operating cost is about $700,000. City Hall is staring down a pandemic-driven deficit of about $60 million. It’s clear city council won’t support that. A compromise plan worth about $400,000 would have bought some time while the city looks for a new partner. Council delivers a tied vote, which technically amounts to a defeat for the compromise motion.
City council has killed the bikeshare program, at least for this season. Instead, it will pay $140,000 to store the 900 bikes. If that holds true, the gross savings for this season will be about $260,000.
This relatively trivial savings — the total annual operating costs amount to 0.02 of the city’s annual budget — is at least defensible, if this was all about money. That is, if this goes hand in hand with an ironclad decision to kill all discretionary spending until the municipal deficit is dealt with. But is it that?
Is council saying, for example, that under these circumstances not one red cent will go to supporting the 2026 Commonwealth Games bid? If so, they might want to make that public declaration so the organizing committee knows where it stands. The compromise proposal would have been financed from area rating budgets from downtown wards, so would not have impacted the general levy. Does this decision mean other projects that have area rating fund commitments — say the new Ancaster Arts Centre, for example — can expect their area rating funding to be withdrawn?
The answer to these and other related questions, is no, not necessarily. That’s because this decision isn’t just about money. It’s also about the suburban/rural-urban divide that has rendered this city council, on all too many occasions, dysfunctional and incompetent.
Among city councillors from suburban and rural wards, projects that directly benefit urban wards and citizens don’t get the same support as those that benefit suburban and rural ridings. And, to be fair, the reverse is probably also true. It’s a form of parochialism all too familiar to Hamilton political observers. And it doesn’t serve the city overall well.
In truth, especially at times like these, these people shouldn’t be called city councillors at all. They should be called ward councillors, because their own wards are really all they care about.
Don’t believe that? Consider this. City council agreed not that long ago to declare a climate emergency in Hamilton, in recognition of the climate crisis and its growing local impact. That’s a good, strong and progressive message.
But the very same councillors just voted to kill the bikeshare program, which by any measure was successful. Those 900-odd bikes served 26,000 active members, who took 350,000 trips last year. Those are trips that don’t pollute like cars and diesel buses do. They are trips that improved physical and mental health of the users. They are a feature of a pedestrian-friendly, environmentally conscious city, the kind that is more likely to attract young families and professionals.
This is what eight members of council — Merulla, Collins, Jackson, Pauls, Johnson, Ferguson, Partridge and Whitehead — killed for the sake of gross savings of around $260,000.
All may not be lost. Perhaps a new viable partner can be found to revive public bikeshare infrastructure. But that won’t solve what’s wrong with Hamilton city council. For that, we will have to wait until the next election in 2022. (Hamilton Spectator Editorial)
Letter to the Editor, The Hamilton Spectator, June 10, 2020
I’m very impressed with the sensitive, sensible, and informative political cartoons created by The Spec’s Graeme MacKay. His cartoons are one of the reasons why I continue to subscribe to the print edition. MacKay’s cartoons of the death of SoBi (May 30) and CAF’s report on Ontario’s nursing homes (May 28) were heart wrenching. We are fortunate to have him.
Catherine Marks, Dundas