GRT ridership numbers are down, but that’s no reason to reduce service or squeeze customers. Quite the opposite.
In our last post, we saw that Grand River Transit’s ticket prices have been raising faster than monthly passes, leaving occasional riders to take more of the burden for cost recovery than the did 10 years ago.
But that analysis is in isolation. What decisions have other cities made, and is this the right balance?
To find that out, we can compare Waterloo Region to a selection of cities from around Canada that fall into a few major categories:
Major Cities: Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton
Large populations, frequent service, and established rapid transit systems. We can look at these cities to see where we are going.
Minor Cities: Waterloo Region, London, Hamilton, Halifax, Winnipeg
Populations around 400-600K, growing transit networks, and many are planning or building out rapid transit. These cities are our peers, and can see how they choose to solve the same problems as us.
Suburban Cities: Brampton, Mississauga, York Region
Medium sized cities in the commuter-shed of Toronto, having to serve transit needs across multiple sparse business districts in a decentralized suburban form. These cities represent an alternate version of what we might become.
Cash & Ticket Prices
It turns out that after the last decade of aggressive increases, GRT’s ticket and cash fares are now right in the middle of the pack of these cities.
When you compare to the other Minor Cities, GRT actually has the highest individual ride prices, and is even more expensive than the larger cities of Edmonton and Montreal. Only Major Cities, including Vancouver, Toronto, and their immediate suburbs are higher. It’s a clear trend that the suburban form of York Region, Mississauga, and Brampton make transit more expensive.
Monthly PassesComparing monthly passes, the chart is dominated by incredibly pricey Toronto and Vancouver passes, with the GTA cities close behind.
At the low end of the chart, Waterloo Region is right in the middle of our peers: a bit higher than London and Halifax, but a bit lower than Winnipeg. Waterloo Region is among the lowest cost cities in all of Canada. Of note, London has not had a fare increase since 2008, meaning GRT’s monthly pass has exceeded London’s only this year.
Monthly Pass Break Even
With GRT’s middle-of-the-pack ticket prices, and a low monthly pass price, let’s see how it compares against those other cities in number of rides for a monthly pass to break even.
With the GRT Corporate Pass and the Federal Transit Tax Credit, the number for Waterloo Region can be brought all the way down to 23 rides, meaning for those lucky enough to be eligible, you only need to ride the bus to work and back a mere 12 days a month.
Sure enough, even compared to other cities, GRT’s fares are heavily aimed at value for pass owners, at the expense of single rides. Occasional riders of GRT have to pay fares almost as high as Toronto for service that is simply not comparable, while pass holders get discounts that keep fares at or below the cost of our peers.
It is laudable to encourage ridership through affordable monthly passes, but single-ride fares are the first interaction people have with a city’s transit system. If it is too steep a cost to even try the bus on occasion, then we risk losing those riders forever. If we must endure greater-than-inflation fare increases, then it is time for single-ride cash and tickets to have a break, as they are now higher than our peers, and in the league of much larger cities with more mature networks.
With electronic fares coming in the next year, new opportunities open for new fare structures that can help break down the divide between tickets and monthly passes. Stay tuned for another post elaborating on options for the fares of the future.
July 1st is coming up, and with it, Grand River Transit is raising fares.
Every year, the fare increase is put under scrutiny. On the one hand, fare increases are natural, and make sure that inflation doesn’t starve our transit system of revenue needed to keep the buses running. On the other hand, steep fare increases can damage ridership.
Which hard choice is going to be made? Are we going to raise monthly passes the most, hitting loyal riders? Or are we going to raise tickets, so the burden is placed on the occasional rider instead? Do we raise cash fares, and hit those who may not be able to afford a whole strip of tickets at a time?
Which way does this year’s change lean? How do this year’s fare changes compare to previous years? And what does that say about the transit system we have?
That’s a lot of questions, and to dive into them, we first need to see what’s changing
GRT Fare Change, July 1, 2016
On average, GRT was aiming for a 5% fare increase. This year cash fares, unchanged since 2012, are taking the brunt of that increase, at 8.3%. Monthly passes get a much lower 3.8%, but that’s still twice the rate of inflation.
This kind of increase is clearly aimed promoting the use of monthly passes. GRT wants riders to become regular riders, and don’t want to scare them away with a suddenly more expensive pass. Occasional riders will have to make up the difference.
But wait a second. Wasn’t this the same compromise that was made last year? And the year before that? How have these fare increases been stacking up over the years? A little investigation, and here are the past 10 years of fare increases for GRT:
Woah, that’s quite the jump in fares. One thing that really stands out are the fare increases of 2012-13, when Regional Council gave GRT a mandate to work towards 50% farebox cost recovery. The GRT 2011-2014 Business Plan called for 50% cost recovery from the fare box, and proposed up to 9% increases per year to meet that goal. We’ve written in the past about the need to be careful about precipitous fare increases for transit. The 9% increase in 2012 brought strong words against council. It’s reassuring to see that the large increases of those years have been tempered, though the 5% annual increases are still pushing the real cost of transit up every single year.
Over the past 10 years:
- Cash fares have risen 23%
- Adult Tickets have risen 46%
- Adult Monthly Passes have risen 23%
- Reduced (Senior/Child) Tickets have risen 51%
- Reduced Monthly Passes have risen 27%
Through these small changes, year over year, the relative cost of a monthly pass compared to tickets has been dropping. The number of rides per month to justify the purchase of a monthly pass as opposed to tickets has dropped from 37 rides in 2006 to 31 rides in 2016. A person needs only to make a round trip 16 times a month for a monthly pass to make sense. The average full time job has 22 working days a month, making that a dead simple choice, even when vacations and holidays come up.
When you consider that there is an even cheaper Corporate Pass available through many employers, and passes are eligible for the Federal transit pass tax credit, the number of rides needed drops all the way to 23, or 12 round trips. The value afforded to monthly pass riders is substantial.
With this general trend of keeping monthly pass costs lower, the occasional rider is being punished.
Tickets have been taking the brunt of the increases over the past 10 years, raising 50%. Tickets are used by occasional riders, and those who may not have regular jobs. Someone working 10 days a month has had their transit costs go up much more than someone working full time on a monthly pass, and yet the person using tickets will be less able to afford such an increase.
Cash fares have not been raising as fast, but the increase to $3.25 has made it more cumbersome than the old price of $3, now requiring you to find a Toonie, Loonie, and a Quarter in your pocket. Cash fares are often the first experience a rider has with a transit system. When someone doesn’t have exact change, they’ll be less likely to try taking the bus. With relatively cheap “rideshare” alternatives like Uber and RideCo now appearing, GRT may start to lose those first interactions with people who could take the bus, but can’t be bothered to figure out if they have the correct change.
GRT and Regional Council should take a look at how these changes line up with their overall goals for transit in Waterloo Region. Are cheaper monthly passes to encourage daily riders the best bet? Or should tickets and cash fares be kept low, to encourage new riders who might then become monthly pass owners?
Either way, let us make sure that it is not simply an accident of a dozen individual fare increases, and is the true direction intended for GRT.
Stay tuned for future posts talking about fares, as we compare GRT to other Canadian cities, and look at how fares could be handled differently with the coming change to electronic fare cards.
Kitchener’s exemption from parking requirements for the first 10,000 square metres of floor space could drive a surge in walkable, transit-friendly, and affordable development downtown – without every new building needing to be a massive tower.
We’ve written at length about parking minimums found in the City of Waterloo’s zoning bylaw review. But the City of Kitchener is also updating its zoning bylaws, and we finally have a draft of their parking requirements. And while parking minimums aren’t exactly abolished, they’re a big step forward.
Embedded directly within the draft parking standards are provisions for shared parking spaces – for instance, an office building and a place of worship might have different peak times of use, and could probably share a lot of their parking. These rules acknowledge that without a developer needing to apply for a special exemption.
Generally, the car parking requirements are less onerous than those of Waterloo’s draft bylaw, but are greater for bikes. Outside of downtown and ION station areas, residential units only require 1.1 parking spaces each, compared to 1.5 in Waterloo, offices require just 3 spaces per 100 square metres compared to 4, and retail 3.4 instead of 4. Bike parking for residential developments are about on par with Waterloo’s, but quadruple to 1 bike space per unit in downtown and station areas. For non-residential uses, Kitchener would require significantly more bicycle parking than Waterloo.
Parking maximums would also apply, not just in transit station areas, but across the city. These would be about 20-40% above the minimums.
The big game changer though, is found in this clause:
In a UGC-1, UGC-3, or UGC-4 zone, an exemption from the parking spaces required in Table 5-3 may apply up to the first 10,000 m2 of gross floor area of buildings on a lot for non-residential uses, and up to the first 100 dwelling units for residential uses.
Essentially, new or repurposed buildings downtown that have less than 10,000 square metres of floor space, (or fewer than 100 units), would see no parking requirements at all. Considering that structured or underground parking costs $20,000-50,000 per space, this could greatly reduce the cost of new development and consequently, housing. It could also lead to blocks with more active frontages, since there would be less need for driveways or garage entrances if a developer opts for no parking at all.
This change will open the door to transit-supportive density, without the need for every building to be a massive high-rises. Instead, the rules favour small and medium-sized buildings that require no parking.
To comment on the proposed zoning bylaw changes, attend one of the public drop-in sessions on June 22 or 28 (City Hall, 4-8pm), or visit the Consolidated Review of the Zoning Bylaw website.
With yesterday’s announcements about future all-day GO trains in Kitchener, improvements to bus service might not seem all that exciting. But it would be a big mistake to overlook this leap forward in improving inter-city mobility that express buses to Brampton represents. (more…)
Lots of changes are happening in your community, and you have a chance to influence them. Here are some upcoming public consultations you might want to participate in:
Waterloo Park Promenade
The City of Waterloo is continuing to seek input on the central promenade through Waterloo Park, part of the Laurel Trail. There are two opportunities for input:
- Today (May 3) from 3:30-7pm near the Laurel Creek bridge
- Online via Engage Waterloo May 3-17
Wilson Ave bike lanes
City of Kitchener staff are looking to build cycling facilities along Wilson Ave from Wilson Park to Homer Watson Park, as part of the city’s cycling route from Cambridge to downtown. They’re currently working on plans for lanes from Wilson Park to Fairview Park Mall. (The section of Wilson south of Fairway Road will require changing the road configuration and will form part of an upcoming Environmental Assessment.)
A public consultation is taking place Wednesday May 4, 7-9pm at Howard Robertson Public School, 130 Morgan Ave. Stay tuned for more detail on the plans, and how to give feedback.
Uptown parking study
The City of Waterloo is conducting a study to figure out what its parking needs will be for Uptown over the coming years, and develop a financial model for parking. Currently, overall parking use peaks at just 60% of capacity, (even on-street parking), meaning that we devote more space to parking than we actually need today. The price of parking also has a significant impact on the transportation choices people make.
Initial feedback can be given on Engage Waterloo from May 2-11.
Rapid transit station planning
Station area planning is intended to update the zoning, design of streets, and amenities to support increased growth and better walkability around ION stations.
Kitchener’s Central station area plan (Market, Frederick, Queen, Kitchener City Hall, Victoria Park, Central Station) has just been reviewed by the Planning and Strategic Initiatives Committee. The Midtown and Rockway plans (Grand River Hospital, Borden, Mill) are just beginning, with a public meeting happening Thursday May 5 at 6:30pm in the Victoria Park Pavilion.
Iron Horse Trail
The Region is planning some new water infrastructure in Kitchener and Waterloo, and are eyeing part of the Iron Horse Trail as a preferred route for a new water main. Construction could disrupt the trail for several months in 2017 or 2018, but could also be coordinated with planned trail upgrades as part of the Iron Horse Trail Improvement Strategy.
If you want to learn more or have feedback for the Region, there will be two public consultations:
- Tuesday May 17 from 5-7pm, Region of Waterloo Public Health, 99 Regina St S
- Thursday May 19 from 5-7pm, St. John Catholic Elementary School, 99 Strange St
You’ve probably seen the King Street grade separation begin to emerge in downtown Kitchener. The Region will be holding an open house on the King & Victoria Transit Hub on Thursday May 19 from 4-8pm in Regional Headquarters, 150 Frederick Street, Kitchener.
Waterloo is reviewing its zoning bylaws. We’ve had lots to say about parking policy in the draft bylaw, but also want to make you aware of how you can talk with staff about what you’d like to see. There are a couple of drop-in sessions at City Hall where you can meet with staff and ask questions:
- Tuesday May 3, 3:30-5:30pm
- Tuesday May 24, 3:30-5:30pm
- Tuesday June 7, 3:30-5:30pm
- Tuesday June 21, 3:30-5:30pm
The new draft Station Area Plans for light rail in the City of Waterloo suggest applying maximum parking requirements in transit station areas, as well as deeper parking reductions in areas closest to stations. Meanwhile, the city is undertaking a parking utilization study in Uptown, with an eye towards possibly beginning to charge for parking. (more…)
Part 7 in our series on parking in the City of Waterloo draft zoning bylaw.
There’s an old joke that says, the trouble with parking is that it isn’t going anywhere.
If you read the City of Waterloo’s draft zoning bylaw, you might think they took the joke literally. But will we always need parking, especially copious amounts of it? What will the future bring?
We’re on the cusp of some pretty major shifts that will greatly alter how we get around and consequently, how much parking we’ll need. (more…)
Part 6 in our series on parking in the City of Waterloo draft zoning bylaw.
What if we built a light rail network and nobody came?
Part 5 in a week-long series on parking in the City of Waterloo draft zoning bylaw.
Commercial zones could foster thriving businesses and walkable places if we avoid burdening them with too much parking.
Of all the zoning types, commercial can be the most flexible. For most commercial zone categories, you can build retail, restaurants, office space, places of worship, and even apartments and condos. Over half of these categories in the City of Waterloo’s draft bylaw have the words “mixed use” as part of their name. (more…)