Transit commission closes public input phase of fare reviews

As the Victoria Regional Transit Commission (VRTC) nears a decision on transit fare changes, the opportunity for public input has now passed. A public hearing on Nov. 13 allowed the transit authority to hear feedback from the community.

B.C. Transit conducts a fare review every three years. Since the last review, ridership has increased 5.2 per cent, and operational costs have increased 14 per cent. B.C. Transit hopes to increase fares and property taxes to make up for these associated costs.

B.C. Transit spokesperson Meribeth Burton says that currently, fare revenue makes up 29.9 per cent of transit funding, though some B.C. Transit literature states that fares account for up to 36 per cent of its revenue.

“We’re pretty excited in terms of public consultation. This is a sort of historic high for B.C. Transit,” Burton says of the scale of public input.

The VRTC isn’t making a decision until Dec. 4, but in September approved four fare change options for the public to provide input on. People were asked to do so from Sept. 20 to Nov. 9 via written feedback, online survey and the public hearing.

More than a thousand people responded to the survey. B.C. Transit also received 64 emails and 28 phone messages. Forty-one per cent of respondents were between 18 and 29 years old, and 69 per cent use transit mainly for work. Over 50 per cent have used the regional transit system for more than five years, and 52 per cent do so five days a week.

The survey also showed tickets and monthly passes as the most popular ways of paying for transit service.

Only one person presented at the public hearing. This individual was against any increases to fares and taxes, saying the public should not receive the burden of transit costs.

“I think the general consensus is that [people would] like the same thing for no increase, but that’s not very realistic,” says Burton.

A VRTC meeting followed the hearing to discuss the fare strategy process and results of the public consultation so far.

As of Nov. 5, option three is most popular. Forty-three per cent of respondents chose this option, which includes no increase in regular cash fare and tickets, but a raise in senior/youth cash fare to equal the regular cash fare of $2.50. Regular tickets and monthly passes would stay the same, and the senior/youth discount on those would also remain.

In second place, with 37 per cent in favour, is option one, which would increase the adult cash fare from $2.50 to $2.75 and the senior/youth cash fare from $1.65 to $2. It decreases the cost of day passes and doesn’t change adult monthly passes, but increases all ticket rates. B.C. Transit says this option would likely bring in more revenue than option three.

Option four raises all cash fares to $3, while the adult monthly pass rate stays the same, and the senior/youth monthly pass rates decrease. Sixteen per cent of respondents chose this option.

The least popular option was option two, which four per cent of respondents selected. This option increases adult cash fares to $3 and senior/youth cash fares to $2. The monthly pass rates would increase as well.

B.C. Transit’s online survey also asked respondents to choose either implementing the new fare strategy entirely on April 1, 2013, or doing so over a three-year period. Responses were divided exactly in half.

In Canada, the average adult cash fare for transit is $2.59, according to the Canadian Urban Transit Association (CUTA).

But when it comes to determining a fair fare structure, says CUTA’s President and CEO, Michael Roschlau, we shouldn’t compare our fares to other cities or even the Canadian average.

“You’re never going to compare apples to apples,” he says.

Instead, he says we should look at population and different urban land use patterns and how those factors affect ridership and operating costs.

“[For example], a place like Regina that is a prairie and is pretty flat and sprawling is going to be less conducive to strong transit ridership than let’s say Victoria, which is on a peninsula, has geographic constraints and stronger corridors of demand in the inner city,” Roschlau says.

He adds that a good fare system balances benefits to the transit user and to the community. For the community, this means keeping a lid on congestion and greenhouse gas emissions, improving air quality and providing social access and universal mobility.

“These are all community benefits that go well beyond the individual rider. We all derive benefits from having that transit service available whether we use it or not,” says Roschlau.

“It’s arriving at a consensus in the community and a policy by the leaders about where that balance lies and then sticking to it over time, which means raising fares, reasonably frequently, in small amounts that make up for the cost and inflation of delivering the service.”

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