Proposed changes to transit fares for kids, adults and seniors were approved by the transportation standing committe this week.
If things go ahead according to schedule, adult fares for Halifax Transit will go up from $2.50 to $2.75 on September 30—an increase that was approved during the 2019/2020 budget process.
The extra quarter will fund increased wages, more expensive fuel and service increases like new routes from the Moving Forward Together Plan.
Staff supported the increase by comparing Halifax Transit’s fares to other similar cities in the country, and the fare here was one of the lowest. To make up for the fact that wages in this region are also much lower than those in other parts of the country, staff say they looked at fares in other parts of Atlantic Canada, where Halifax Transit fares were relatively similar.
Councillor Sam Austin says if you look at “where inflation is, in some ways, it’s not really an increase at all.”
Staff recommend changing passenger classifications, removing the student classification, redefining youth and increasing the age where children can ride free from under four to 12.
Councillor Waye Mason put forward an ammendment to give a bit more thought to the implications of staff's final classification change, removing the senior fare category.
Marc Santilli, manager of technical services for Halifax Transit, says part of the reasoning behind removing the senior category was census data that showed populations over 65 were now doing better economically than they were in the 2001 census. He adds that since it's early in the process, the city hadn’t done any actual consultation with seniors yet.
Mason hopes his amendment will allow the other changes to go forward while doing further research into the effect of changing or removing the senior fare. “The first thing is to determine who our riders are and then determine what their needs are,” he says, making sure seniors who don’t fall below the current low-income qualifications, but still by other measures would be considered low-income and benefit from the lower fares, are considered.
Robert Young, a low-income senior, says, “I would expect a big pushback from seniors on this issue.” He uses transit often—when not riding his bike, which he’d ridden to the meeting to see what committee members had to say—and while he says he doesn’t have a problem with the 25-cent fare increase, he also says that the free rides for seniors on Tuesdays, outside of rush hour, aren’t very beneficial. The free Tuesday rides for seniors won’t see any change.
The committee also approved the recommendation to look into charging for parking at the Halifax Transit Park and Rides, specifically those at the Woodside Ferry Terminal, which sees increased parking from NSCC Waterfront students who park there instead of paying for parking at the school.
And while a utopic end goal of the Moving Forward Together Plan could be to have entirely free transit, Mason says there’s “about 35 million reasons” Halifax Transit couldn’t adequately make that change, as fares currently generate $33.68 million according to the staff report, so taxes would have to increase to make up for the revenue loss.
The approved recommendations with Mason’s amendment will go to regional council in a few weeks for further discussion before any final decisions are made.