LONDON, Ont. - An organization that advocates for bus riders is calling on London Transit Commission to go “fare free.”
Bus fares contribute about half of the LTC’s annual operating budget for conventional transit. But the London Transit Riders Alliance has just launched an online petition calling for the elimination of bus fares.
The Alliance’s Joel Adams says anyone could just hop on for free. “Fare free transit is something that has been talked about for a long time but has really built momentum over the last few months and the last year with the climate crisis.”
The petition states eliminating bus fares would combat climate change, address affordability concerns, and reduce congestion on the roads by getting more people on buses.
London already offers free rides to kids 12 and under. Adams believes city hall should expand the program to everyone - becoming the first fare free city in Canada.
“With two teenagers, four people going somewhere by bus is actually more expensive than using a car, calling a taxi or using an uber,” he says.
City councillor Phil Squire, who is a member of the transit commission, warns it would be financially difficult to make transit free given the current funding model.
That model sees Ontario municipalities pick up a larger share of transit costs than in other provinces.
“It doesn't happen unless you have a provincial or federal government that says we'll help you with the operating costs of free transit,” he says.
The LTC’s 2020 budget request includes $38.1 million in fare revenue. Squire says that cost would likely shift to city hall’s operating budget.
“Tanslate that into a tax increase. You would be looking at a seven or eight per cent tax increase to fund this.”
Adams suggests the solution lies in shifting city hall’s budget priorities. Going fare free would boost bus ridership and reduce city hall's annual spending on road maintenance and road widenings.
He adds city hall could consider other revenue sources.
“Some of it could be moved to the assessment base and assessment growth which could be spurned on by investments in transit. There's also sources like corporate investment and working with some of the institutional stakeholders in London.”
The LTRA petition can be found here: https://www.transitriders.ca/farefree.