Were we misled?
At first, we were relieved to hear at the September Transit Commission meeting that the Transit Commissioners believed OC Transpo should freeze fares until commissioners were satisfied that the LRT was fully functional and had proved its ability to withstand an Ottawa winter without persistent issues. During a global pandemic that has left many struggling financially, this seemed to be a sound and sensible decision.
However, on October 6th at the Finance and Economic Development Committee (FEDCO) meeting, the Mayor announced that the city is planning a 2.5% fare increase for 2021, with the exception of EquiPass, Community Pass and Seniors’ passes. During the COVID-19 lockdown, most people still riding transit are transit dependent. Increasing fares is bad for equity and will disproportionately affect these individuals who include many low income workers (grocery and retail workers, cleaners, personal support workers, etc.) and people with disabilities. Not all of these riders are eligible for discounted fares, and others do not use the lower cost programs due to the red tape, yearly hassles and lack of dignity involved in applying for them. Transit will take an increasingly large bite out of their already overstretched budgets. If we really believe in promoting equity in our community, freezing transit fares is a simple way to ensure that everyone has a safe, reliable and truly affordable way to get around.
As the Transit Commission noted, we also do not have enough confidence in the performance of the LRT to justify raising fares. We do not know if last winter’s issues have been resolved, and with lower ridership volumes it will be difficult to determine whether service is indeed improved or if the lack of ridership is simply masking issues that still exist. A fare increase should not be contemplated at a time when riders do not have full confidence in their transit system.
Finally, the decision to raise transit fares undermines the City’s declaration of a climate emergency. We know that one surefire way to reduce emissions is to reduce our use of personal vehicles and instead opt for public transit, cycling, walking or mobility devices. If we want to encourage transit usage, we need to make transit affordable and reliable so that it represents a viable, convenient and economical alternative to a personal vehicle for most trips. Increasing transit fares discourages ridership and pushes people toward continued car usage.
An increase of transit rates will make life harder for many, particularly those who can least afford to spend more money on transit. It will further reduce ridership among those who have other alternatives, and with no guarantee that the LRT will perform well in winter conditions, we do not even know if the service we are paying so much for will be reliable. Please join us in fighting for fair fares by calling, writing or reaching out on social media to your city councillor, the mayor and the transit commissioners to let them know how you feel. You can tag them in your social media posts using the hashtag #Fight4FairFares. We need to call out City Council and OC Transpo and let them know that citizens deserve a fare freeze.