OC Transpo to freeze fares until at least March
Fare freeze to cost $1M, could be extended if LRT service doesn't improve
Ottawa's transit commission has approved a fare freeze until the end of March, with an option to extend it further if the floundering LRT isn't reliable enough by spring.
Transit fares went up last month with the full launch of the Confederation Line and were set to rise again by an average of 2.5 per cent on Jan. 1.
But after the LRT failed to run as reliably as promised, Mayor Jim Watson proposed a three-month freeze.
Late Wednesday, the transit commission approved putting off the planned increase as part of its 2020 draft budget deliberations.
The freeze will result in a $980,000 shortfall in revenue for OC Transpo, which the city plans to recoup from the Rideau Transit Group (RTG), the consortium led by SNC-Lavalin and ACS Infrastructure that built the LRT.
Coun. Catherine McKenney tried to have the fares frozen for all of 2020, which would have cost the city $4.9 million.
They proposed the lost revenue be covered by RTG, but that idea was voted down 7-4.
3 votes vs. budget
The commission voted in favour of the draft budget, which calls for a year-over-year increase of $22 million for operations and $130 million more for capital purchases.
It still has be approved by council on Dec. 11.
But three commissioners — councillors McKenney and Riley Brockington, as well as citizen commissioner Sarah Wright-Gilbert — voted against the budget.
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"I wasn't convinced that there was enough in the budget for low-income transit riders," said McKenney. "I wasn't convinced that that we were ensuring that we were keeping transit affordable for everyone."
The low-income EquiPass pass will not be increased at all in 2020.
Still, at $58.25, it is still almost $13 more expensive than the senior monthly pass.
McKenney wants to give low-income riders two free days of transit a week, which is what is offered to seniors.
Brockington said he voted against the budget because he wants more bus reliability in his ward, and he doesn't believe this budget will deliver it — even with the 40 buses taken out of retirement earlier this month.
"Everyone thought those 40 are in active service every day and that's not the case," said Brockington, who represents River ward, south of central Ottawa.
"Some are in active service, some are waiting to be called into service … as of today my number one issue in my ward is still not addressed to my satisfaction."
But Brockington did get a win on Wednesday — his motion to extend the family day pass from weekends and holidays to weeks when students are off school, such as Christmas and March breaks, was passed.
It was an idea the councillor floated three years ago. Now it just needs to get through council to become a reality.
OC Transpo staff couldn't say how much it would cost.
$250K a month for standby buses
Earlier in the meeting, OC Transpo boss John Manconi announced the city will receive 20 new buses sooner than expected and will use them as a standby replacement fleet to be deployed with the LRT falters.
Those buses, which the city had already purchased, were going to be used for detours related to LRT Stage 2 construction later in 2020.
The buses will cost about $250,000 a month to operate, but again, the city plans on getting RTG and its maintenance arm cover the price tag.
The city pays Rideau Transit Maintenance (RTM) between $4 and $5 million a month, and has been withholding payment since September because the city says RTM hasn't met agreed-upon performance targets.