TransLink raises fares while Toronto and other cities across Canada freeze theirs

Susan Lazaruk
Transit advocate Nathan Davidowicz at Oakridge Skytrain Station in Vancouver. PHOTO BY ARLEN REDEKOP /PNG

Mar. 24, 2022

A transit user advocate says raising fares discourages passengers from returning to the transit system, which is down 50 per cent of pre-pandemic ridership numbers

Beginning July 1, it is going to cost more to ride transit in Metro Vancouver.


With little discussion at a TransLink board meeting on Thursday, the transit authority approved an average 2.3-per-cent fare hike, bucking a nationwide trend to combat low ridership by freezing fees after two years of the pandemic.


“It’s a bad idea because we are trying to get ridership to come back,” said transit advocate Nathan Davidowicz. “We would be discouraging ridership by raising the fares.”


Thursday’s decision means that a single-trip ticket will go up around 15 cents, depending on the zone, while a day pass will rise 25 cents to $11. One-zone monthly passes will rise by $2.30 to $102.55, two-zone passes by $3.10 to $137.10, and three-zone passes by $4.15 to $185.20.


Ridership dropped in 2020 because of COVID and has only returned to about 50 per cent of pre-pandemic numbers, according to TransLink.


In 2019, there were more than 277 million bus boardings and 165 million boardings on SkyTrain and the Canada Line. That dropped to 143 million bus boardings in 2021 and 76 million boardings on SkyTrain and the Canada Line.


TransLink said it cancelled a 4.6-per-cent fare hike planned for 2020 and lowered a 2021 increase to 2.3 per cent. The 2022 hike is below the planned rate of growth.


Before the pandemic, TransLink had increased fares three per cent in 2017 and 2018, and 3.2 per cent in 2019.


TransLink is the only transit provider in B.C. raising fares this year, and most of the operators across Canada have not raised fares, said Davidowicz, a long-time advocate for transit users who contributes to a Facebook page called We Ride Public Transit Vancouver.


He said TransLink should instead follow New Zealand’s lead, where Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a 50-per-cent cut in transit fares for at least the next three months. In Ireland, the cost of monthly or yearly passes is dropping 20 per cent, and fares for those under 24 years old are being cut by 50 per cent.


In New York, the governor postponed a scheduled fare hike until next year and is offering other financial incentives to get passengers to return, including fare discounts on some lines.


Transit systems that are freezing fares are headed by Toronto and its surrounding suburbs, including Brampton, Mississauga, Durham and York regions. Fees have been frozen in Ottawa, Hamilton, and Edmonton, where the mayor has been quoted as saying, “People are just starting to return to the system and now is not the time to increase the fare.”


Calgary and Winnipeg allowed fare increases this year of between two and three per cent.


The Toronto Transit Commission, which started 2022 with ridership at 54 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, said it was freezing fares. Hamilton is considering allowing children under 12 to ride for free.


A TransLink statement said in order to grow ridership it was improving sanitization and ventilation on vehicles, as well as encouraging businesses to subsidize transit instead of parking for its employees. It has also launched a “tap in to win” sweepstakes and is considering installing more washrooms and bus shelters.


Such improvements are part of its plan to “provide customers with a more exceptional experience on transit,” including “making transit more personalized, easier to use, more reliable, safer, and more climate friendly.”


“Having a transit system that is reliable, convenient, and safe is the best way to attract ridership,” the TransLink statement said.


TransLink also said the fare increase will “help pay for maintaining transit service levels,” such as “large bus service increases, station upgrades, SkyTrain expansion.”


The transit operator said it will not be cutting service and “despite a decline in ridership, we have kept service levels the same since 2019.”


It said it delivered 6.961 million hours of service in 2019, 6.895 million hours in 2020, and 6.982 million hours in 2021.


“Of course, they’re cutting service,” said Davidowicz, who has chronicled a detailed list of specific service reductions on his Facebook page. “They have reduced service on 50 bus routes, half of them are in Vancouver, and half are on the North Shore and in Burnaby and Richmond.”


He said three bus routes that were cut in March 2020 remain suspended.


“Every day, there are many cancellations of bus trips,” he said.


Davidowicz, who spoke against the fare hikes at the TransLink board meeting on Thursday, said the “unelected board” doesn’t appear to want to hear passengers’ concerns.

[Top photo: Transit advocate Nathan Davidowicz at Oakridge Skytrain Station in Vancouver. PHOTO BY ARLEN REDEKOP /PNG]