Price hike for regular riders, end of tickets part of city's 2018 fare plan

OC Transpo staff are proposing to end 'Express' prices, hike regular fares and get rid of paper tickets and passes to prepare for the Confederation light rail line's opening in 2018.

$6M gap in OC Transpo budget from phasing out 'Express' routes with Confederation Line

(From left) Transit Commission chair Stephen Blais, OC Transpo general manager John Manconi and OC Transpo assistant general manager Pat Scrimgeour go over city staff's plans for the transition to the Confederation light rail line's opening in 2018. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

City staff are recommending changes to what and how OC Transpo riders pay to ride Ottawa's new bus and train network in 2018.

The proposals, which have to be approved by the city's Transit Commission and city council, would ring in the opening of the east-west Confederation light rail line in 2018 by eliminating "Express" bus pricing, hiking regular fares to make up the loss of that higher-priced category and putting an end to paying with paper passes and tickets.

Here's what staff laid out in a technical briefing to reporters and councillors on Tuesday.

No more 'Express' bus prices

Right now, "Express" buses bring riders from Kanata, Stittsville, Barrhaven and Orléans straight to downtown for a fare that is 23 to 50 per cent higher than the fares for other buses that take longer to travel the same way.

City staff say changes to the transit system designed to bring riders to new hub light rail stations such as Tunney's Pasture, Blair and Hurdman mean that Express buses won't be very different from other buses, so it would be wrong to keep charging people more to use them.

If the city does away with Express bus pricing, it will then have to make up some $6 million in revenue it makes from those higher fares.

Staff propose to do that by:

  • Raising the cost of a monthly adult pass from the $105.75 riders will pay starting in July to $112.25 when the Confederation Line opens, a hike of $6.50 or 6.1 per cent.
  • Raising the cost of a monthly student pass from $84.25 this July to $84.75.
  • Charging Presto users $3.30 for a single ride, up from the $3 it will cost in July.
  • Eliminating the $3.30 ticket fare and moving the cost of paying with cash from $3.65 down to $3.35.

Express buses themselves wouldn't be going away, but will be transitioning to "Connexion" routes, which the city says will connect residential neighbourhoods to the O-Train "for a convenient transfer downtown."

Transit Commission chair Stephen Blais says as an example, the route 35 bus that goes to and from Orléans would change to a bus with a route number in the 200s — hopefully route 235 to cut down on confusion.

Para Transpo changes

City staff are also looking at changes to other kinds of passes, including community and Para Transpo.

Para Transpo users who don't have an express pass have to pay extra to travel before 9 a.m. but that would end under these recommendations.

There would be a new "access" pass for Para Transpo users who aren't on the Ontario Disability Support Program, which would give them a third off the price of a Para Transpo ride.

As well:

  • Everyone younger than age 20 would be eligible for the city's new "Youth" monthly pass, which would replace the "Student" monthly pass that's only available to students under 20.
  • The price of an adult day pass would rise from $8.50 to three times the cost of a single fare, which to start would be $10.
  • OC Transpo would introduce a new "Multi-Day" pass geared toward tourists, with a price to be set in the 2018 city budget that would not make it a better deal than a monthly pass.
  • City staff say they're working with Via Rail to give their riders an option to include an OC Transpo fare in their Via ticket, as is the case in other cities.

Under the city staff proposal, fares would change starting Jan. 1 of every year instead of July 1, since the city's fiscal year runs from Jan 1 to Dec. 31.

The changes do not include a low-income transit pass, which many community groups have been asking for.

Blais said Tuesday they'll introduce such a pass if the province pays for it, as his commission voted to ask for in May.

OC Transpo assistant general manager Pat Scrimgeour also said the city looked at "fare zones", or paying more depending where you're going, but decided against it because it would have made the system more complex.

Vending machines key

As mentioned above, there would be no more OC Transpo tickets or paper passes under these proposals.

Paper passes would start to go away with this October's monthly student pass, then June 2017's adult monthly pass, senior and Community passes in August 2017 and finally, the end of tickets in November 2017.

City staff say paper pass and ticket use has been declining and wouldn't work in the new fare system, which will rely on machines to read a Presto card or barcode on an event ticket or transfer.

Scrimgeour said there will be vending machines at every O-Train station where riders can get or load a Presto card or pay cash to get a transfer.

Riders won't be able to drop cash into a collector to get onto a train, he said.

City staff said during the briefing they're working with universities to make the U-Pass work with these machines, which will take the Société de transport de l'Outaouais's Multi Card.

These fare proposals have been in the works for months as part of a review of OC Transpo's transition to light rail.

They will go before the city's Transit Commission June 15 (a meeting that's been moved to council chambers because of an expected big crowd) then would need to be approved by council as a whole.