Ontario Liberals promise to cut all transit fares to $1 until 2024

The Ontario Liberals say that if they form government after the June 2 election they would make all transit fares $1 until 2024.

Fare cut would apply to all public transit networks in the province, Liberals say

The fare cut would apply to all municipal transit, as well as the GO Transit network and Ontario Northland system, the Liberals say. (Michael Charles Cole/CBC)

The Ontario Liberals say that if they form government after the June 2 election they would make all public transit fares $1 until 2024.

The party says the fare reduction would apply to "every transit system in Ontario," including all municipal services, as well as GO Transit and Ontario Northland.

The Liberals are dubbing their plan "buck-a-ride," a reference to a popular part of Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford's 2018 platform to offer "buck-a-beer."

In a news release, the Liberals say the proposal would cost about $710 million in 2022/2023 and roughly $1.1 billion in 2023/2024, and that the government would replace all lost revenue to transit services.

"Ontario is gripped by an affordability crisis and families expect their government to act," says Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca in the release.

"Our plan will provide families with immediate relief within the first 100 days of being elected, by slashing the price of transit to a buck-a-ride."

The party is also proposing capping the cost of a monthly transit pass at $40 and making all public transit free for veterans.

The Liberals say the move to slash transit fares could take up to 400,000 vehicles off the road each day.

The party says it arrived at that figure starting with an estimate of 2.7 million rides per work day. For every 10 per cent decrease in fares, it estimates ridership will rise by three per cent. 

With the average transit fare in Ontario around $3.30, dropping it to $1 would be a 70 per cent reduction in the average fare price, which could mean a 20 per cent overall increase in ridership, the Liberals say.

He would not say exactly when the complete platform would be released, only that it would be fully costed and that voters could expect to see it soon.

Del Duca touted the transit announcement Monday while slamming some of Ford's investments in highways, particularly the Highway 413 project around the Greater Toronto Area. The Tories say it will save commuters up to 30 minutes, but Del Duca and other critics say that won't happen and the project will just contribute to sprawl.

The Progressive Conservatives are promising a number of other highway projects, including widening Highway 401 east of Toronto and making improvements to the Queen Elizabeth Way in the Niagara Region. Del Duca said he will invest in highways "where it makes sense."

"I know that in many parts of Ontario, expanding, rehabilitating our highway system is critically important for goods movement, and for our commuters, and frankly, for the safety of the travelling public," he said.

Del Duca was asked if he would pay for the promise by reinstating licence plate renewal fees — the Progressive Conservative government recently eliminated them and the move is expected to cost $1 billion in foregone revenue.

"Ontario families are struggling, so we're not looking to make their life more difficult," he said.

The Liberals previously pledged a separate $375-million investment for annual transit operating funding to support more routes, extended hours of service, accessibility and intercity connections.

In response to the Liberal announcement, the NDP released a statement saying that transit in the province "got worse and worse" under Del Duca's tenure as transportation minister in the government of former premier Kathleen Wynne.

The statement also referenced the controversial Kirby GO station, which is scheduled to be built at some point in what was Del Duca's home riding during his time as transportation minister. 

A 2018 Auditor General's report found that regional transit agency Metrolinx decided to approve plans for Kirby station despite its own internal recommendation that the station not be built. At the time, Bonnie Lysyk attributed the reversal to political pressure from Del Duca and officials from the City of Toronto

With files from The Canadian Press