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No fare freeze coming for Ottawa transit riders in 2024

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Ottawa city council has voted against freezing OC Transpo fares for a second year in a row.

A motion to freeze transit fares was brought forward at Wednesday's 2024 budget meeting, but it was voted down by 15 councillors, compared to 10 who voted in favour.

The overall transit budget passed by a vote of 17 yeas to 8 nays.

This means fares will be going up 2.5 per cent on Jan. 1. The cost of a monthly pass will rise $3.25 to $128.75. The per-trip fare will rise 10 cents to $3.80 with a Presto card and $3.85 without. Students on the U-Pass program will pay an additional $6 next year.

Fares were frozen at 2022 levels in the 2023 budget and Coun. Jessica Bradley introduced a motion to keep fares frozen at that level in 2024, covered by a 1 per cent increase to the transit levy, which was budgeted to increase by 2.5 per cent.

Adding an extra 1 per cent would have increased tax bills by an additional $8, staff said.

Bradley's motion, seconded by Coun. Jeff Leiper, said a fare freeze would generate an estimated 300,000 additional trips next year.

"I would say that we're a year later and not much has changed," Bradley said. "Strides have been made. We have found the root cause to our LRT challenges and we're working on a permanent fix, but that has not yet been implemented. We've just undergone a route review and staff have worked very hard to complete that, but that has not yet been implemented. The success of those changes are still unknown and it's premature at this time to introduce a fare hike."

However, the fare freeze faced more pushback this year than it did last year, with Coun. Glen Gower, chair of the Transit Commission, pointing out that OC Transpo relies heavily on taxes already. The transit service's target is to be funded 55 per cent by fare revenues and 45 per cent by the transit levy, but that ratio is closer to 31 per cent fares and 69 per cent taxes.

"We've already made a massive shift toward a much higher proportion of property taxes. Over two-to-one," Gower said. "Yes, property taxes should be contributing, but fares are a user fee that helps cover the cost of running transit and increasing fares and having fares allows us to continue to improve service year over year as ridership continues to improve."

Gower said freezing fares has a compounded effect on the transit budget years later. Staff told council that freezing fares in 2024 would have a $200 million impact over 30 years.

"If there's one vote I regret from last year's budget, it was on freezing fares last year, because now we're even further behind on our revenue," he said.

Transit Services General Manager Renée Amilcar told councillors that she does not anticipate a fare freeze would increase ridership.

"The only thing that will bring people is to make sure that customers can trust the service we deliver and we deliver what we promise," she said. "We have one focus, to deliver what we promise, so that those people who are with us will stay with us and we can attract other people as well."

City council voted 20-5 to approve the 2024 budget, which includes $4.6 billion in operating expenses and $1.2 billion in capital spending.

How councillors voted

Voting in favour of Coun. Bradley's fare freeze motion were:

Jessica Bradley, Jeff Leiper, Sean Devine, Laine Johnson, Stéphanie Plante, Ariel Troster, Shawn Menard, Riley Brockington, Rawlson King, and Theresa Kavanagh.

Voting against the fare freeze motion were:

Cathy Curry, Catherine Kitts, Marty Carr, David Brown, Wilson Lo, David Hill, Glen Gower, Allan Hubley, Clarke Kelly, Laura Dudas, George Darouze, Steve Desroches, Matthew Luloff, Tim Tierney, and Mayor Mark Sutcliffe.

Voting in favour of the overall transit budget were:

Cathy Curry, Catherine Kitts, Marty Carr, David Brown, Wilson Lo, David Hill, Glen Gower, Allan Hubley, Stéphanie Plante, Clarke Kelly, Laura Dudas, Riley Brockington, George Darouze, Steve Desroches, Matthew Luloff, Tim Tierney, and Mayor Mark Sutcliffe.

Voting against were:

Jessica Bradley, Jeff Leiper, Sean Devine, Laine Johnson, Ariel Troster, Shawn Menard, Rawlson King, and Theresa Kavanagh. 

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