Tuesday, October 21, 2008

How high are Ottawa bus fares?

On Monday, the Ottawa Citizen published a letter from a local resident, who claimed that OC Transpo is "pricing out of the market the very people who most need the service". But how high is the cost of public transit in Ottawa, compared to other major cities in Canada?

To find out, I've looked up a few different services in the ten largest Canadian metropolitan areas (CMAs), according to StatsCan's Canada 2006 Census: Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa/Gatineau (which I've split into two), Calgary, Edmonton, Quebec City, Winnipeg, Hamilton, and London (from most to least populated). Those people "who most need the service" would, I imagine, include students and the elderly. Here's what I found for costs, as of October 2008, under several categories, from least to most expensive:

Regular adult single-trip cash fare:


  1. Winnipeg: $2.25

  2. Hamilton: $2.40

  3. Calgary: $2.50

  4. Edmonton: $2.50

  5. London: $2.50

  6. Vancouver: $2.50*

  7. Quebec City: $2.60

  8. Toronto: $2.75

  9. Montreal: $2.75

  10. Ottawa: $3.00

  11. Gatineau: $3.15

* - Vancouver has three 'zones'; this fare (and all others presented below) is for travel within one zone.

So the two services within the Ottawa/Gatineau metropolitan area have the highest per-trip cash fares among the top ten CMAs. Although some cities (including Toronto and Montreal) offer reduced single-trip fares for students and seniors, Ottawa does not. There are discounts for monthly passes, however, as demonstrated below.

Adult monthly transit pass:


  1. Montreal: $66.25

  2. Edmonton: $66.50

  3. Winnipeg: $71.25

  4. Quebec City: $71.55

  5. Vancouver: $73.00

  6. London: $74.00*

  7. Gatineau: $74.00

  8. Calgary: $75.00

  9. Hamilton: $79.00

  10. Ottawa: $81.00

  11. Toronto: $109.00

* - London cost is for CitiPass; a weekday pass is $63.00.

Although Gatineau is pretty much middle-of-the-pack for monthly pass costs, Ottawa has the second-most expensive price for a monthly pass--ahead of only the country's most substantial transit system, Toronto.

Post-secondary student monthly transit pass:


  1. London: $12.00*

  2. Edmonton: $23.63**

  3. Gatineau: $51.50***

  4. Winnipeg: $57.00

  5. Ottawa: $62.65

  6. London: $64.00

  7. Montreal: $66.25

  8. Quebec City: $71.55

  9. Vancouver: $73.00

  10. Calgary: $75.00

  11. Toronto: $91.25
* - Undergraduate students at the University of Western Ontario and Fanshawe College pay $96.00 for 8- and 12-month passes, respectively. The cost of $12 is based on the 8-month pass for UWO undergrad students.
** - Edmonton's U-Pass costs students of the University of Alberta and MacEwan College $94.50 per term (roughly $23.63 per month, although U of A's is university-subsidized to $78.75 per term).
*** - In Gatineau, students over 20 have to pay the full $74.00 monthly cost.


Ottawa and Gatineau fare much better (pun intended) with regards to student passes. Ottawa students are also able to purchase a semester pass for $232.25, or roughly $58.06 per month. Should OC Transpo and the city's budget committee agree with the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa's (SFUO) bid for a $125-per-semester U-Pass, the monthly expense would be roughly $31.25--almost half what is charged today.

Senior (65+) monthly bus pass:


  1. Calgary: $2.92*

  2. Edmonton: $11.50

  3. Hamilton: $17.08**

  4. Ottawa: $30.40

  5. Quebec City: $32.95

  6. Gatineau: $33.50

  7. Winnipeg: $35.65

  8. Montreal: $36.00

  9. Vancouver: $42.00

  10. London: $52.50

  11. Toronto: $91.25
* - Calgary offers a yearly pass for seniors for $35.00, or roughly $2.92 a month. Low-income Calgary seniors only pay a mind-bogglingly low $15.00 per year ($1.25 a month).
** - Hamilton price based on a $205 annual pass for seniors.


Although Ottawa/Gatineau costs look almost criminal when compared to that of Calgary, they are still pretty low overall, and almost a third of the cost in Toronto. And recently, the transit committee agreed to lower the Annual Senior Pass by 8.1 per cent, which--if my math serves correctly--works out to roughly $27.94 per month.

Although Ottawa's regular adult cash fare is pretty high, cost breaks for students and seniors are significant. Another thing that must be kept in mind is the service offered--I can't comment on how thorough the transit systems in the other CMAs because I haven't travelled on them significantly, but Ottawa has a system which--despite its warts--many other city commuters envy.

7 comments:

Dave said...

It's worth noting that if you base fares off tickets, Ottawa shoots to the top of the cash fares list. I don't know if other cities give discounts for pre-paid tickets (I know Toronto and Montreal don't), but it's a factor when considering the cost.

Anonymous said...

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm fairly sure that Council decided to raise fares for adults and students a certain percentage for each of the next three years (although this might have been a year ago). While the city has done a lot to help out seniors, I think it needs to do more to help students. It's not fair to offset the lowering of Senior Bus Passes by raising the price of Student Bus Passes.
I don't think I'd mind paying the fares they are paying in Toronto if our system were NEARLY that good. As it is, I really can't get around the city using only public transit. So if you add in the cost of gas and upkeep for my car, our transit costs are through the roof!

Peter said...

You certainly make a fair point about OC Transpo's reliance on people getting to the buses, instead of buses getting to the people--Park'N'Rides are not the answer to getting more people on the buses.

As for students, we'll see how this U-Pass discussion goes, because it would drastically lower costs for students of Carleton and Ottawa.

Femi said...

You mention in this blog that students pay $62.65/month for a bus pass but that is not true for all students. As a part-time student at Algonquin College, I am required to pay the $81/month or adult rate. I do not feel I classify as an adult as I attend school twice a week. A adult fare price should be for those not attending school at all.OC Transpo should have a part-time pass to better service its population. This year, 36 000 students at Algonquin are registered in part-time studies. Many for at least one semester. There are many more thousands at Carleton U and Ottawa U. OC Transpo has to step up to the plate and stop gouging students for money and look at the facts the customers its serving.

Anonymous said...

Femi,

I completely agree. OC Transpo seems to have forgotten that they are supposed to be a service for the citizens of Ottawa. The rules in place for "student" passes, and the prices we are made to pay are disenfranchising to say the least. When students are no longer students, but gainfully employed citizens, I wonder how many of them will continue to use the bus.

Dan said...

Part of the problem with the U-pass proposed for students is that the cost is automatically charged to all students, whether or not they use the transit system. It becomes part of their Student Levies.
So, while it is true that it becomes a charge of roughly 30$, that is a charge that every student will have to pay.

Brenton said...

Re: post-sec student rates:

The rate that students in Vancouver varies depending on which school one attends. Here's the breakdown of the cost per month:

Four schools with a U-Pass:
UBC: $23.75
SFU: $26.10
Capilano College: $32
Langara College: $38

At all other schools students pay the regular monthly rate of $73:
Vancouver Community College
Emily Carr University
BC Inst. of Tech.
Douglas College
Kwantlen Polytechnic University