OC Transpo fare freeze idea far-fetched, argues Mayor Jim Watson

City Coun. Tobi Nussbaum thinks it's unfair to raise fares when OC Transpo riders are facing so many service disruptions over next two years. Mayor Jim Watson says that's 'great politics, but lousy public policy.'

'It's great politics, but lousy public policy,' says Watson of Coun. Tobi Nussbaum's campaign to freeze fares

OC Transpo riders should not have to shoulder a fare increase next year because of anticipated service disruptions, said Coun. Tobi Nussbaum. (Doland Bourgeois/CBC)

Mayor Jim Watson has criticized a city councillor's campaign to freeze a planned fare hike for OC Transpo riders as compensation for all the service disruptions they'll face over the next two years.

"The notion is, 'Well there's going to be disruptions in the next two years, let's freeze fares,'" Watson told reporters on Tuesday. "There's going to be disruptions for the next eight years because phase two [of the city's light rail project] is going to go ahead. Are we freezing them for eight years?"

Last week Ottawa's transit commission approved a budget that would see fares increase an average 2.5 per cent for everyone except children and Ontario Disability Support Program recipients who use a community pass. 

But Coun. Tobi Nussbaum argued all fares should be frozen.

"Over 40 per cent of the trips taken on OC Transpo on the course of the calendar year are going to undergo some kind of service disruption," he said. 

"If our transit system were a hotel and we were undergoing renovations, we probably wouldn't choose the period at the renovation to raise room rates," Nussbaum said. "Similarly as we're asking our customers to endure greater delays, I don't think it's the right time to raise transit fares." 

'Great politics, lousy policy'

While Watson said he would "love to freeze fares," he said the idea isn't feasible since other costs — including wages — can't be frozen.

"It's great politics, but lousy public policy, because guess what happens? You have to raise them even higher at the end of the freeze," he said.

Watson cited the 2010 budget when the average fare rose by 7.5 per cent.

"When you have a service, someone has to pay for it." 

Nussbaum suggested the city cover the fare increase by upping the transit levy by a further 0.9 per cent, which he said would add an extra "$5 and change" to the average residential tax bill.

If the fare hike goes ahead as planned, Nussbaum said ridership could decrease as residents look for a cheaper mode of transportation.