Bus ticket prices expected to go up

The price of OC Transpo bus tickets is almost certain to be raised next January, but the debate over how much is far from over.

A report released to city councillors last week details plans to raise transit fares next year by an average of 7.5 per cent. The report came under fire Wednesday at a transit committee meeting, where it was criticized as unfairly targeting the disabled, children, and the poor.

The report recommends raising ticket prices – which are often used by those who can’t afford a regular bus pass – by 15 per cent from $1 to $1.15 each.

Several members of the public showed up to confront the committee, including president Charles Matthews of the Disabled and Proud advocacy group.

“Bus ticket prices have gone up 140 per cent since 1985, but [Ontario Disability Support Program payments] have only gone up 10 per cent,” said Matthews. “The math is self-explanatory.”

Matthews claimed that the bus ticket hikes were particularly damaging to disabled people who only take the bus once or twice a month to the doctor.

Tensions flared when committee chair Alex Cullen suggested that the difference of 30 cents a month wasn’t very large.

Matthews shouted back that “30 cents is a lot of money.”

“I don’t think council understands how tight money is for us,” he said. He explained that most people on ODSP are only given $110 a month for basic needs – including food, shelter, and other personal items. Unless they have a certain number of doctor appointments scheduled a month, they are not given any extra for transit.

Others members of the public argued that the hike’s most serious affects will be on children and the poor. Children are not eligible for adult passes and many rely on tickets to get to school. With more than 190 days in a school year, a 15-cent increase translates to up to $28 extra per year spent on bus tickets.

Somerset Coun. Diane Holmes disagrees with the proposed fare hike, saying “we’re going the wrong way.” Her Centretown constituency has one of the highest densities of transit users in the city.

“There are lots of people who are on low-income and who cannot afford this fare increase,” she said, adding that the increases are hurting ridership on OC Transpo.

Capital Ward Coun. Clive Doucet opposed the motion for a different reason.

The report proposed that the amount would be debated by council in budget deliberations, but Doucet fears that the discussion will take a backseat at budget time and the public will not have a proper chance to give input.

“I think it’s not fair to (council), it’s not fair to our city, that we make that decision in that context,” said Doucet.

He brought a motion – which passed unanimously – that fares be set by the transit committee at its Nov. 5 meeting.

An increasing number of blogs have sprung up dedicated to discussion of Ottawa’s public transit system, and the proposed fare increase has been a hot button topic.

 Among the arguments against the fare hike is that if high gas prices are behind the increase then the added cost should be shared by all fare classes, not just ticket buyers.

Peter Raaymakers of TransitOttawa.ca, however, said in an interview that he thinks it is unfortunate that the fare hikes are targeting ticket users but that it is probably necessary to cope with increasing costs.

Alain Mercier, director of OC Transpo, said the 15-per-cent fare hike is necessary to help cover costs and to encourage people to buy passes. He said that relatively low ticket prices are eroding bus pass purchases and there needs to be a better balance.

Council has set a goal to recover 50 per cent of operating costs through revenue. This year, the city predicts that just 48.8 per cent will be recovered, the shortfall due mainly to rising gas prices.