Low-income transit pass not included as commission approves new fare structure

Ottawa's transit commission heard more pleas Wednesday from people who want OC Transpo to offer a discounted monthly pass for people on low incomes, but commissioners will leave it up to the province to fund such a pass or revisit the issue themselves next fall.

Question of when to end premium fares on suburb-to-downtown routes to be raised at next council meeting

OC Transpo plans to revamp how much riders pay for monthly passes and single fares to get ready for the arrival of light rail, which will transform how the network operates. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

Ottawa's transit commission heard more pleas Wednesday from people who want OC Transpo to offer a discounted monthly pass for people on low incomes, but commissioners will leave it up to the province to fund such a pass or revisit the issue themselves next fall.

The commission did approve a fare structure to take effect Jan. 1, 2017, which doesn't include that pass, but gets the city ready for when light rail trains come on track in 2018 and the system is transformed.

It must still be approved by full city council.

Advocates have been calling for a low-income pass priced at about $41 per month. OC Transpo has estimated offering that discount would cost $3.3 million per year.

That price would be in line with what an OC Transpo pass costs seniors and people who receive Ontario disability support payments, and represents about a 60-per-cent discount over a regular adult monthly pass.

2 pitches from residents

"Recognize that it's simply not good enough to pass this issue on to the province," the Healthy Transportation Coalition's Trevor Haché urged the commission.

He made his own pitch for how to pay to create a low-income transit pass.

Haché couldn't understand why OC Transpo plans to end the premium fares OC Transpo charges riders who take express buses on Jan. 1, 2017, even though riders will get to keep taking those direct suburb-to-downtown buses until 2018.

OC Transpo should keep charging premium fares longer, argued Haché, and use that money to fund a low-income pass.

Others suggested the seniors' pass, and any other pass that is offered at a discount, should be analyzed for a rider's ability to pay.

Heather Stecher, who is part of the Making Voices Count initiative, suggested a fare structure of her own based not on age but on income.

"I'm sure nobody wants to put a low-income person in the position of deciding between fruits and vegetables and a bus pass," added resident Hortense Kailo.

Commissioners sympathetic to low-income issue

Many on the commission showed support for a low-income pass, but also suggested it's more of a social issue that should be dealt with by the provincial government or at budget time. 

"You saw some interest in continuing that discussion later in the year," said Coun. Stephen Blais, who chairs the transit commission.

They did, however, question the issue raised by Haché​ about why those premium fares charged on express routes would be phased out so many months before the routes themselves.

A motion by Coun. Tobi Nussbaum to consider keeping the premium fares in place until 2018, when LRT arrives, will be discussed at an upcoming council meeting.