Reduced fares, free rides on the table as council committee eyes transit study

Strategies for increasing Edmonton's transit ridership will be studied by city staff, if city council's urban planning committee gives the go-ahead Tuesday.

Data shows most tickets for unpaid fares handed out at LRT stations

Most tickets for unpaid fares are handed out in Edmonton's LRT stations. (CBC)

City staff will study ideas to increase Edmonton's transit ridership if council's urban planning committee gives them the go-ahead Tuesday. 

The comprehensive study would look at different fare options and ways to improve rider safety and make the system more efficient.

Coun. Aaron Paquette requested the study in November, while also suggesting that council consider making the Edmonton Transit System free for riders. 

He wants the study, if approved, to look at the benefits of reduced fares, and no-cost models.

"Remove every possible barrier you can, because you know that the net benefit is so huge," Paquette said. "It doesn't make sense not to remove those barriers."

The study could also look at how other municipalities have managed the pressures of growing populations on their transit systems, Paquette said.

"Transit is intensely woven into everything we do as a municipality, we just don't think about it a lot," he said.

Fare revenues brought in $118 million in 2018, roughly 36 per cent of the ETS operating cost.

Total ridership was 87 million in 2017, with 62 million rides on buses and 25 million on the LRT.

Unpaid fares

Keeping transit affordable has to be a priority, Paquette said.

"Mobility is actually one of the key indicators for the health of your municipality," he said. "Can people get around efficiently and inexpensively?"

Almost 6,500 tickets were handed out to people who used ETS without paying a fare in 2017, according to data obtained by CBC from the City of Edmonton. Almost 1,300 of those tickets were distributed at Churchill Station alone.

Most of the tickets for fare evasion were handed out in the LRT stations near Edmonton's downtown. (CBC)

"It's a question of poverty," said Paquette. "They just simply can't afford it."

The penalty for fare evasion is a $250 fine.

Electronic system coming

Looking at fares is timely, said Paquette, since ETS will implement an electronic account-based fare payment system in 2020.

The Smart Fare system will allow ETS to offer flexible fare options, which could include fares based on distance, said Paquette. 

"It will allow us to pilot different projects, like seeing how the fare impacts a certain area of the city."

The electronic system will also enable ETS to track ridership more efficiently, he said. 

A feasibility report prepared for the urban planning committee suggests the study could be done at no extra cost. It would be incorporated into Edmonton's overall transit strategy, which is already underway.


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