Ottawa Sun: Transit commission wants province to pay for a low-income pass

Posted May 9, 2016

An affordable pass for low-income OC Transpo customers should be funded by the province, the transit commission decided Monday.
Knowing Transpo doesn’t have a stash of millions to backstop a deeply discounted pass, the commission supported a motion by commissioner Blair Crew to ask the province for the money.
Cutting the price of passes by 62 per cent for low-income customers who don’t already receive a transportation benefit from Ontario Works would cost $3.3 million. It’s an option favoured by advocates of a low-income pass.
Knoxdale-Merivale Coun. Keith Egli said asking the province to pay for a low-income pass is “reasonable and pragmatic” when Transpo doesn’t have the money to fund it.
But Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper wants an option in time for a refreshed fare table coming to the commission in June. In fact, he wants to know how other fares could be increased to pay for a low-income pass.
It seems Cumberland Coun. Stephen Blais, the chair of the commission, already knows what it would cost. The work is done and it will be released next month, he said.
Blais chided Leiper for showing interest in raising fares for other classes to pay for a new pass, but Leiper just wants to know the numbers. Using transit taxes to pay for a low-income pass would be a discussion for council.
Statistics Canada put the low-income cutoff for a single person at just over $20,000 in 2014. The figure increases as more family members are taken into consideration.
About 15 per cent of the city’s population have, or are members of families with, incomes below the low-income cutoff. Transpo estimates 31,000 customers have low incomes, based on 2011 travel data.
The commission heard from a handful of delegates, including Kat Fortin representing local ACORN members.
Fortin, who uses a wheelchair, said low-income residents rely on OC Transpo for chores, like getting groceries.
“Communities prosper when people can move around easily,” Fortin said.
Rachel Manson and Naheed Khan, representing the City for All Women Initiative, told the commission how an affordable transit pass would help their families travel around the city. They are both single parents.
Trevor Haché, who spoke for the Healthy Transportation Coalition, offered some personal ideas on how to pay for a low-income pass, such as implementing road tolls or increasing transit levies on property taxes. The city, however, doesn’t have the power to implement road tolls.
Transpo’s overhaul of the fare table is expected to dovetail with massive changes to the transit system prompted by the start of the Confederation Line LRT in 2018. A new fare structure is expected to begin in 2017, and with that could come rejigged route numbers and a recommendation to make sure annual fare increases happen in January rather than the current July implementation date.
Meanwhile, Transpo is once again trying to figure out why ridership is down. Transpo GM John Manconi said declining ridership is a nationwide phenomenon and managers in Ottawa are on a mission to find out what exactly is driving the decrease here.
“It’s about 90-some per cent of what the target is, but we think it’s a bunch of things that are causing it,” Manconi said, noting that more people could be biking and walking or simply working more from home.
“It’s not a perfect science,” Manconi said.
Article by Jon Willing for the Ottawa Sun