Friday, August 20, 2010

2010 Election: Cullen on transit fares

Over the course of the 2010 Mayoral Election campaign, Public Transit in Ottawa will be sitting down with mayoral candidates, discussing their platforms and thoughts on transit in this city, and what they hope to achieve during their mandate, if elected mayor.

Fare hikes are an issue in any major city, but they seem to be especially of concern for Ottawa residents. And for good reason: Besides Gatineau, Ottawa has the highest cash-fare for transit of any major Canadian city. (Gatineau is slightly ahead.) Bringing down fare hikes is certainly an issue for many of Ottawa's transit riders.

However, mayoral candidate Alex Cullen doesn't think that bringing down fare hikes would work in Ottawa's growing transit system--in fact, he's not sure further fare hikes can be avoided.
You can’t avoid fare hikes, unfortunately, but you want to mitigate them. There is a demand curve, and elasticity. We have two clienteles who use the bus: Those who do not have an alternative; they’re low-income, and they don’t have an alternative, so they have to eat the fare increases, even though they have the least capacity. But those who have an alternative tend to be price sensitive, lo and behold. They’ve got cars, they’ve got a means to get about town, they take the bus because it’s convenient, but as soon as that equation shifts, we lose them.
An option that has begun gaining steam in Ottawa is finding a way to make fare increases match inflation--but Cullen isn't even sure that will work for Ottawa, especially given the labour costs at OC Transpo and the city's hesitancy to risk another transit strike.
If you only follow the inflation rate, you only follow inflation. But if you want to expand service, then that’s an additional cost above inflation. We’re going to be stuck with whatever the price of gas is, although, yes, our new buses are far more fuel efficient, and we’re making some savings on that. You want to look at those efficiency factors to mitigate the pressure of inflation.

And the other major component to inflation, of course, is wages. Did I mention ‘strike’? We just went through a difficult strike experience, and I don’t think we want to repeat that again. So we do want to ensure that there is scope to increase transit service.
Still, Cullen doesn't think fare hikes are the only way to offset expansions to Ottawa's transit plans. Although he didn't go into specifics, Cullen suggested that finding room in other parts of the budget to invest into transit could lessen the impact of any fare hikes.
The transit portion of the city’s budget is going to grow. Of course, this doesn’t happen in a vacuum; can we free up some money because of the upload of social services by the province? That gives us some tax room.


F said...

Why the hell does Ottawa have the highest cash fares in North America? This is simply bizarre. Fares should be lowered.

Also, the lower income you are in Ottawa, the more you pay for transit. Low income people certainly cannot afford annual passes or perhaps even monthly passes. A lot of them rely on tickets or cash fare (which is the highest price).

I have a strong feeling that people in the city are subsidizing rural and suburban routes. We shouldn't be. Money could be saved by having feeder routes from the suburbs to central locations like St. Laurent, Hurdman, Lincoln Fields or Baseline. There's no need for these buses to go all the way downtown!

There is Transit Riders' Union group on Facebook which meets regularly. Their main cause is the lowering of transit fares in Ottawa. Maybe you should do an article on them!

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