Free (or low cost) transit in various cities

Everyone’s talking about free transit these days. We’re in a climate emergency and getting people to use public transit is a good way to reduce our impact on the environment.

During the recent provincial election, all parties made promises about public transit – the PCs said that they would give $75 million to restore the Northlander passenger-rail system in northern Ontario. All the parties promised to invest in transit reliability and integrated transit fares in the GTA.

Here is an article about cities that offer free fare for all or some of their riders. Kirstin Pulles of Free Transit Ottawa is quoted.

No fare is fair: Should Ontario get on board with free transit? 

The mayor of Boston, Michelle Wu has said, “free public transportation is the single biggest step we could take toward economic mobility, racial equity, and climate justice.”

Here is an article where she explains her argument.

During appearance on Freakonomics Radio, Mayor Wu argues for free transit

Here is an article about the movement towards free transit in Ottawa. Laura Shantz, a board member of Ottawa Transit Riders and a candidate for Rideau-Vanier is quoted in this article.

Free Transit Ottawa has proposed making transit free for specific groups of people – they have a petition on their website advocating for free transit for people who receive Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program. Click here to sign the petition

Free transit movement making inroads, advocates say 

The amalgamated transit union (ATU) posted a well considered argument on their website in 2020.

Free Public Transit in Canada? 

Here’s an article about what cities have learned from experimenting with free transit.

The Case for Making Public Transit Free Everywhere 

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Practice "rack n'roll" at Hurdman

Have you ever wanted to take your bike on an OC Transpo bus, but were nervous about loading and unloading it?

OC Transpo has listened to riders and is now offering a “rack n’roll” practice unit at Hurdman station. Come give it a try!

Avez-vous déjà voulu prendre votre vélo dans un autobus d'OC Transpo, mais vous étiez nerveux à l'idée de le charger et de le décharger ?

OC Transpo a écouté les usagers et offre maintenant un moyen de s'exercer à charger son vélo sur le support à la station Hurdman. Venez faire un essai !


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People's Transit Forum - July 9th

Join us for an in-person event about transit

The Ottawa Transit Riders is organizing an in-person event to discuss transit and the upcoming election.

We are looking for volunteers to join an election working group to plan events in different neighbourhoods to bring transit issues to people’s attention. If you cannot attend this event, but are interested in volunteering, please email us at [email protected]

The event is planned for Saturday, July 9th from 1-3 PM at Minto Park on Elgin (across from Jack Purcell CC).

Click here for details: People's Transit Forum in Minto Park 

With a municipal election coming in October, we want to make transit a major topic during the campaign – what do you want media asking candidates? What do you want candidates to promise? What brave, exciting new transit changes do you want to see with a new city council?

We will have speakers talking about free transit, accessible transit, the benefits of transit for young people and old …

Come and talk to current city councillors and candidates.



Le groupe des usagers de transport en commun d'Ottawa organise un événement en personne pour discuter du transport en commun et l’élection qui aura lieu en octobre.

Nous recherchons des bénévoles pour se joindre à un groupe de travail électoral chargé de planifier des événements dans différents quartiers afin d'attirer l'attention des gens sur les problèmes de transport en commun. Si vous ne pouvez pas assister à cet événement, mais que vous êtes intéressé par le bénévolat, veuillez nous envoyer un courriel à [email protected]

L'événement est prévu le samedi 9 juillet de 13h à 15h au parc Minto sur Elgin (en face du Jack Purcell CC).

Cliquez ici pour plus de détails : People's Transit Forum in Minto Park 

À l'approche de l’élection municipale d'octobre, nous voulons faire du transport en commun un sujet majeur de la campagne. Que voulez-vous que les médias demandent aux candidats ? Que voulez-vous que les candidats promettent ? Quels changements courageux et excitants en matière de transport en commun voulez-vous voir avec un nouveau conseil municipal ?

Nous aurons un orateur qui parlera de la gratuité du transport en commun, un autre qui parlera de l'accessibilité du transport en commun, d'autres qui parleront des avantages du transport en commun pour les jeunes et les personnes âgées ...

Venez, rejoignez-nous pour parler aux conseillers municipaux actuels et aux candidats.


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Don't forget about ParaTranspo

The LRT inquiry is happening and several members of the Ottawa Transit Riders have made face-to-face delegations or submitted comments in written form.

If you want to know more, click on this link Ottawa Light Rail Transit Commission 

For general enquiries or to submit any information relevant to the Commission's mandate, please contact [email protected]

Several of the people testifying about how the LRT fiasco affects public transit in Ottawa mentioned that the focus on the LRT has distracted city officials from dealing with other aspects of transit … especially accessible transit. People who use ParaTranspo have a long list of complaints … long waiting times to book, no same-day bookings, a limit on the number of trips people can take per day, dirty buses, noisy buses, curfews on holidays such as New Year’s, etc.

The problem is the LRT sucks up all the attention and resources! Journalists rush to interview people who miss exams because the train got stuck and councillors demand inquiries into the procurement of substandard trains. What about Para Transpo customers who have lost out on job opportunities or missed important medical appointments they’ve waited months to get? Listen to people who use accessible transit!

There’s never been enough capacity for the number of people who need to use this service and the buses currently in service are nearing the end of life, with no indication of a budget or timeline as to replace them. Listen to ParaTranspo users who want same-day booking and extended hours.

Let’s make the system more efficient so people leaving from the same location can share buses rather than use two parallel buses. Let’s be sensible about schedules and booking – if a hockey game goes into overtime, make sure that Para buses wait for their users rather than forcing people to leave a game early.

Yes, we need accountability for the LRT fiasco and yes, we need to improve service on buses throughout the system, but all too often, users of ParaTranspo are told to wait until other issues are addressed. (We’ll get to you eventually).

Enough is enough!

It’s about respect.

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Green party plans for transit

The Green party exists to protect our environment so they should have the strongest message and policies for mitigating the effects of climate change. Their leader, Mike Schreiner impressed many with his performance in the leader’s debate.

What are they offering for transit? Here are some highlights:

  1. The Green party has specific plans for replacing high polluting gas or diesel powered vehicles with cleaner electric vehicles, including promises to electrify GO Transit and Metrolinx in the Toronto area.
  2. They advocate for tripling public transit trips by 2030, by building dedicated bus lanes, buying electric buses, making off-peak transit cheaper, and integrating transit with on-demand systems.
  3. They promise to restore the 50% provincial cost-share for transit operations


Further details on their election promises for transportation can be found on their website at Travel and Transport 


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Looking at the NDP plans for transit

The Ottawa Transit Riders is a non-partisan group advocating for better public transit. We support measures to reduce fares. We support measures to provide operational funding so that local transit providers can offer good, reliable service.

As Ontario voters consider their options for the provincial election on June 2nd, we have reviewed the platforms of several parties regarding transit.

Politicians love providing capital funding for projects because they can cut ribbons and declare something accomplished, but capital funding is of limited use if cities cannot afford to run their expanding systems.

Likewise, short-term cash infusions are nice, but they don’t allow companies to make long-term plans.

Let’s look at the transit proposals from the NDP.

The NDP platform includes a commitment to restore provincial funding for municipal public transit and paratransit systems to 50% of their net operating costs.

The NDP is promising to eliminate private-public partnerships (P3s).

They are also planning to support several specific inter-city transportation routes – an equity issues, especially in rural Ontario. It is appalling that people who don’t have access to cars have fewer transportation options in 2022 than in previous decades.

Details can be found here on the NDP website: BETTER PUBLIC AND INTERCITY TRANSIT

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Transit Pledge for MPP candidates

The Ottawa Transit Riders is an advocacy group for reliable, affordable, accessible transit. To help voters make decisions about their representatives, we would like Ottawa area candidates to click on the link below to sign a pledge that they will advocate for public transit if they are elected.

Le group des usagers du transport en commun d'Ottawa est un groupe de défense des intérêts d'un transport en commun fiable, abordable et accessible. Pour aider les électeurs à prendre des décisions concernant leurs représentants, nous aimerions que les candidats de la région d'Ottawa cliquent sur le lien ci-dessous pour signer un promesse selon lequel ils défendront le transport en commun s'ils sont élus.


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Ottawa Transit Riders' statement on Liberal announcement of $1 fares

The Ottawa Transit Riders is a non-partisan group advocating for better public transit. We support measures to reduce fares. We support measures to provide operational funding so that local transit providers can offer good, reliable service.

Public transit is a public good – it allows people to get around a city even if they are too young or too old to drive or do not have access to a car or do not want to contribute to climate change.

Good public transit makes a city liveable as it reduces traffic and pollution. It is a tool for improving equity, allowing low income residents an affordable way to get around the city for work or for school or to get to daycare and medical appointments and social events.

We are delighted that the Ontario Liberal party has announced a proposal to reduce transit fares AND to provide essential operational funding for transit. (Ontario Liberals will slash all transit fares across the province to $1)

People who care about people and want to mitigate climate change should be pleased that a political party is taking public transit seriously. For far too long, public transit has been undermined despite being an essential service. In Ottawa, transit fares went up again on May 1st to an unaffordable amount for low income residents ($3.70 per ride or $125.50 for a monthly pass). We can’t keep raising fares and cutting service.

We want to hear more details - will the plan add funds to increase capacity? How will it support accessible (ie Para) transit? And what happens after 2024?

As transit advocates, we will examine the transit proposals of other parties in Ontario throughout this week.


Le groupe des usagers de transport en commun d'Ottawa est un groupe de revendication non partisan, composé de membres, qui travaille à rendre le réseau de transport en commun d'Ottawa plus abordable, fiable, accessible et sécuritaire pour les usagers. Nous appuyons les mesures visant à réduire les tarifs. Nous soutenons les mesures visant à fournir un financement opérationnel afin que les fournisseurs de transport en commun locaux puissent offrir un service de qualité et fiable.

Le transport en commun est un bien public - il permet aux gens de se déplacer dans notre ville même s'ils sont trop jeunes ou trop vieux pour conduire, s'ils n'ont pas accès à une voiture ou s'ils ne veulent pas contribuer au changement climatique.

De bons transports en commun rendent une ville vivable car ils réduisent la circulation et ainsi les embouteillages et les émissions de gaz. C'est un outil d'amélioration de l'équité, qui permet aux résident.e.s à faible revenu de disposer d'un moyen abordable de se déplacer dans la ville pour le travail ou l'école, ou pour se rendre à la garderie, aux rendez-vous médicaux et aux événements sociaux.

Nous sommes ravis que le Parti libéral de l'Ontario ait annoncé une proposition visant à réduire les tarifs de transport en commun ET à fournir un financement opérationnel essentiel pour le transport en commun. (Les libéraux de l’Ontario réduiront à 1 $ tous les tarifs de transport en commun de la province

Les personnes qui se soucient des gens et veulent atténuer le changement climatique devraient se réjouir qu'un parti politique prenne le transport public au sérieux. Pendant trop longtemps, le transport en commun a été miné alors qu'il s'agit d'un service essentiel. À Ottawa, les tarifs du transport en commun ont encore augmenté le 1er mai, atteignant un montant inabordable pour les résidents à faible revenu (3,70 $ par trajet ou 125,50 $ pour un laissez-passer mensuel). Nous ne pouvons pas continuer à augmenter les tarifs et à réduire le service.

Nous voulons entendre plus de détails - le plan ajoutera-t-il des fonds pour augmenter la capacité ? Comment soutiendra-t-il le transport accessible (c'est-à-dire para) ? Et que se passera-t-il après 2024 ? 

En tant que défenseurs du transport en commun, nous examinerons les propositions de transport en commun des autres partis politiques en Ontario tout au long de cette semaine.


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Getting an EquiPass should be easier

I have recently helped a friend obtain an EquiPass and I am once again horrified and frustrated at the process. I have previously joked that it is more difficult than applying for a passport, but in truth, it felt like performing an arcane ritual.

A quick reminder that the EquiPass is a reduced fare card for residents on low income. 

I helped my friend gather proof that she met the low income criteria and we sent in her application.

Two months later, a woman from OC Transpo called her but because my friend does not speak English very well, she was confused.

(By the way, there is a question on the application asking if applicants have trouble communicating to add a contact person. I was listed as my friend’s contact person, but was not contacted.)

I called OC Transpo to ask what was going on and spoke to a very nice person who gave me step-by-step directions:

  • Buy a new card (because her previous card has been deactivated)
  • Create a new account
  • Register her card
  • Wait 24 hours
  • Tap her card
  • Add money to card (or buy a pass)

I walked my friend through each step over the phone, but I made a mistake too. When Presto asked what we were trying to do, I guessed “activate a card” which was the wrong answer so we had to do it all over again.

How many low income residents of Ottawa struggle with English or French? How many get confused by the unclear directions? Why are there so many steps?

Low income residents need transit more than anyone.

These barriers seem like a deliberate attempt to limit access.

Here is Ottawa Transit Riders’ proposal. Low income residents should be able to walk into a customer service centre with their application and documentation and walk out with an EquiPass.

If it is essential to register a card, instructions should be made available in multiple languages.

Transit is an equity issue … let’s take down the barriers.


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ParaParity needs to be a priority

The Ottawa Transit Riders advocates for affordable, reliable, ACCESSIBLE public transit for all. People who use ParaTranspo have been demanding “parity” for years. They have a long list of demands:

  • Online booking
  • Same-day booking
  • Expanded hours of operation
  • No more caps on number of rides users can take
  • Access to Presto readers so they can tap their cards
  • Flexibility for pick-up and drop-off locations

In addition, users of ParaTranspo have long called for common sense scheduling – use one shared bus for customers travelling together, and have buses available at the end of events such as Senators games rather than pre-scheduled.

ParaTranspo users are often given a long window of time in which they must be ready for their bus to arrive. This makes it difficult to schedule their lives – additional time has to be factored in to make appointments and to get to work or to arrive for events. It reinforces the notion that ParaTranspo does not value their time.

Kyle Humphrey, an Ottawa-based accessibility advocate, argues that “equity” would be the freedom to have an active social life, say yes to last minute invitations to events and gatherings, plan to stay out past midnight and have the same quality experience as conventional transit riders.

Sally Thomas, an equitable transit champion who is a board member of the Ottawa Transit Riders, thinks Para Transpo could do a much better job with logistics.

The failure of the LRT occupies much of the media attention in Ottawa. Riders advocating for improved bus service are often told to wait until the LRT issues are solved. Riders who use ParaTranspo are often told that their concerns will be dealt with eventually, they just need to be patient.

This logic needs to be flipped – the concerns and demands of ParaTranspo users need to become front and centre at city hall and OC Transpo.

Users of ParaTranspo have been patient for long enough.

Following are some interesting articles about accessible transit in Ottawa:

An equitable recovery for Para Transpo

Para Transpo customers seek attention as LRT dominates transit discourse

The Good, the Bad, and the Bumpy: fearing the end of COVID mandates 

Ryan Lythall writes a regular column describing what life is like for people with disabilities in Ottawa.

He wants candidates for the upcoming elections to consider accessibility. “Sit down with us,” he says in a recent article, “and learn about our concerns regarding Para Transpo and the lack of wheelchair accessibility, including city-owned facilities.”

Attention city hall: Please stop ignoring Para Transpo riders 





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