Increasing transit fares bad public policy

Fare hikes unnecessary and hurt ridership

Here we go again.

In 2012 there is an additional increase in transit fares of $0.05.

Why?

We have been nickeled and dimed to death over the last decade with yearly transit fare increases, despite the fact that there has been a significant increase in ridership in the past eight years.

Also, it is simply not true that Winnipeg Transit fares are the second-lowest in the country.

Transit bus riders pay about 48 per cent of operational funding for transit - staff, administration and maintenance - and revenue such as advertising pays another 12 per cent.

The city pays 20 per cent and the rest comes from provincial transfers.

Winnipeg is currently putting 28.4 per cent of its infrastructure budget toward transit, including rapid transit and local and community transit.

At the same time, 72 per cent of the budget goes towards city roads, according to the City of Winnipeg Transportation Master Plan.

Why didn’t the city consider other sources of revenue such as a motor vehicle tax, special gas tax, toll bridges or other levies?

Meanwhile, in Calgary, 47 per cent of the infrastructure budget goes towards roads and 53 per cent towards transit.

Unfortunately, what is missing in these transit debates is that roads and bridges are viewed as essential public services to be paid completely out of property taxes, as are services such as ambulance and police, while public transportation is not.

The city and province share a mere 40 per cent of the cost of transit service while transit users pay 60 per cent.

Why?

It is interesting to note that Chris Lorenc of the Manitoba Heavy Construction Association has suggested that in order to deal with the significant infrastructure deficit the city faces, toll bridges should be established on highways to pay for part of it.

This suggests, for the first time, that if transit users have to pay for using transit, then car owners should have to pay for some costs of the upkeep of roads and bridges.

Increases are supposed to be based on the rate of inflation.

Why, then, is the City’s CEO continually increasing bus fares by a nickel or more each year, when we don’t even know what Winnipeg’s rate of inflation really is?

Transit fare increases for 2012 should be set aside.

There is no full user-pay public transit system in North America, with Toronto paying 70 per cent and Winnipeg paying 53 per cent of operating costs, compared to a national average of 40 per cent.

Although small increases in fares do not appear to have significant effects on some ridership groups, the effects of cumulative increases in fares over the past decade seem to have resulted in reduced ridership levels by certain groups, especially young people and those on limited income.

Winnipeg Transit determined that fares for regular transit should be based on a revenue-cost formula where riders pay no more than 66 per cent of the operating costs.

However, in 2010 and 2011, riders were paying 71 per cent of the operating costs of regular transit.

Approximately 14 per cent of all Winnipeggers use transit as their main mode of transportation.

Young people ages 15 to 24 are most likely to use public transit, women (except those 15 to 19) are more likely than men to use it.

From any point of view, increasing bus fares is not good public policy for Winnipeg.

While it may generate revenue for the city, it increases cost and inconvenience for residents.

Nick Ternette is a resident at the University of Winnipeg’s McFeetor’s Hall and is a community and political activist, freelance writer and broadcaster.

Published in Volume 67, Number 15 of The Uniter (January 10, 2013)

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