Grand River Transit riders can expect to pay a little bit more for the service this summer after Waterloo Regional council approved a nine per cent fare hike. The changes have yet to be finalized but councillors last week voted 9-6 in favour of the increase, which will come into effect in July. Cash fares could rise to $2.75 from its current $2.50, and other types of fares such as bus passes and student rates could also see a proportional increase.
The rise in fares is part of the regions efforts to have riders pay more of their share of the service. Last year saw a fare increase of five per cent, and there are proposed increases of up to nine per cent in 2013 and 2014 as well – a total increase of more than 30 per cent.
The goal is to have riders paying 50 per cent of the cost of transit services as soon as 2015. In 2010, passengers paid 38 per cent of Grand River Transit costs, with taxpayers footing the rest of the bill.
Woolwich Mayor Todd Cowan voted against the fare hike, saying raising fares is the wrong way to increase ridership on the system.
“The whole idea is that we want to encourage people riding the bus,” he said. “I don’t think raising the fares nine per cent is going to encourage more people to say ‘maybe we should take the bus.’”
Despite the increase, he doesn’t think that the new rates will have a negative impact on the ridership numbers of route 21 that runs through St. Jacobs and Elmira. Rather, the entire system as a whole will suffer as a result.
“From the grand scheme of things – and I’m not talking about the Woolwich riders, I’m talking about the grand scheme of the entire system – that’s what is going to be affected.”
Cowan said that if the fare hike had been limited to 2.5 or three per cent, he likely would have voted in favour of it in order to keep pace with the rate of increase within the region’s overall budget, but nine per cent was simply too high to support.
One of the councillors who voted in favour of the increase was Wellesley Mayor Ross Kelterborn, and he did so based on the belief that riders should be paying for more of their share – not regional taxpayers who have no use of the service, such as his constituents.
“Whenever you have something where people use it, who do you think should pay for it? They (transit riders) should be paying their fair share,” Kelterborn said, adding that ridership shouldn’t be hurt, especially when compared to the high price of running an automobile these days.
Cowan, however, doesn’t agree with Kelterborn’s assessment that those who don’t benefit shouldn’t be supporting it through their taxes. “Good argument, I hear it,” he said, comparing it to the new watermains scheduled to be installed in Maryhill this year to the tune of about $1.3 million – a cost that is covered by the township’s entire tax base rather than just those who live in Maryhill.
“Would you rather have to deal with that between 400 people or 23,000 people?
“Hopefully I never need an ambulance but we still pay for them through the region. It’s for the greater good.”
Last fall Woolwich Township council agreed to cover the operating and debt financing costs of route 21 for a total annual cost of $462,000 – or about $35 per township household.
Average daily ridership during the week was up to 390 from September to December last year, an increase from 351 in 2010 and 245 in 2009, and Cowan expects a new report from the region further updating those ridership numbers next month.