Tag Archives: budget

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Week in review: October 22, 2016

Regional Budget

It’s time for the Region to start preparing next year’s budget again. Assessments are down, which means less natural revenue growth. The projected property tax increase to cover planned or anticipated expenses is about 4%.

At risk is the GRT business plan, which calls for increasing bus service by nearly 30% over the next five years. This is necessary in order to integrate GRT buses with ION light rail service and grow ridership by 40%. This will be a challenging task, one not made easier by the fact that ridership has fallen in the face of years of punishing fare hikes. Will Regional Council have the vision to continue to invest in transit in Waterloo Region, without gouging transit riders?  (more…)

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iXpress loves you and wants you to be happy

GRT: A Brief History of Fares

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

  • Fare Type:            New    (old)    increase%
  • Adult Cash:           $3.25  ($3)     8.3%
  • Adult Ticket:         $2.66  ($2.57)  3.5%
  • Adult Monthly Pass:   $82    ($79)    3.8%
  • Reduced Ticket:       $2.31  ($2.23)  3.6%
  • Reduced Monthly Pass: $70    ($67)    4.5%
  • U-Pass:               $85.20 ($81.15) 5.0%

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:

From 2006-2016, tickets increased by 50%, while cash and monthly passes have increased by 25%

Relative GRT fare increases, as a percentage since 2006, adjusted for inflation (See also without adjustment)

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%

38 rides in 2006, dropping to 31 rides in 2016

The number of bus rides you need to take for a monthly pass to be cheaper than tickets

The Winners

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.

The Others

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.

Final Words

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.

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Regional budget 2016

The Region of Waterloo has now passed its budget for 2016. You may have seen headlines in the news about a bus to Hanson Ave, a discounted bus pass for Conestoga students, and discounted passes for refugee children, not to mention the ongoing light rail construction.

But there’s more happening in this year’s budget. Here are a few things we find in the Grand River Transit budget:

  • Introduction of electronic fare cards this year to replace tickets and passes
  • Installation of transit priority measures to keep buses on schedule
  • Relocation of the Cambridge Centre bus terminal to Hespeler Road to make ION aBRT more direct in 2016
  • A new bus garage will be built near Northfield and University to help GRT deploy buses to Waterloo routes
  • New stop platforms and shelters in 2017 for the future Ottawa iXpress
  • A new bus terminal at the University of Waterloo ION stop, to be completed in 2017
  • Realignment of the Fairway bus terminal and improvements to Conestoga Mall terminal’s pedestrian connections to integrate with the ION stops, to be completed in 2017
  • A new bus terminal at the future Block Line ION stop in 2017, where the 201 iXpress will likely begin and end its route

The GRT capital projection includes costs for facility renewal at Charles Street Terminal up until 2020, giving us an idea of when planners anticipate the terminal’s functions will be fully transferred to the Victoria Multi-modal Hub.

For active transportation, about $15 million is projected to be spent on cycling facilities in conjunction with planned road rework projects over the next five years. An additional $12 million will be spent on new sidewalk construction, both as part of road rework and separate projects. For 2016, about $4.4 million will be spent on cycling and walking, coming entirely out of development charge reserves rather than property taxes.  Projects anticipated for 2016 include multi-use paths along Franklin in Cambridge, protected bike lanes for Manitou Drive in Kitchener, and sidewalk infill on Westmount between University and Columbia.

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Transit and the 2015 budget: a letter to Regional Council

Dear members of Regional Council,

Over the past several years, transit has been squeezed to meet arbitrary cost-recovery targets. Now that GRT has achieved those targets, TriTAG is pleased to see that the proposed 2015 Regional budget does not include any more painful cuts to transit, but instead focuses on continuing to prepare for integration with ION light rail and adapted bus rapid transit service.

We hope that 2015 also marks an end to the sharp fare hikes of the last few years. As the Region develops its new Strategic and GRT Business Plans, it has the opportunity to set fare and cost-recovery policies to satisfy concrete goals for transportation, ridership, social equity, and the environment.  We encourage council to be proactive in considering these goals when deciding on fare and service changes. (more…)

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The 7 branches of route 7

Rationalizing Route 7 – Efficiency Over Cuts

Load on a 7E bus from UW to King via Columbia

In our last post, we advocate that cost savings for GRT can be found through further rationalization of GRT routes instead of cuts to existing services. By reducing duplicated efforts, better service can be provided at reduced cost. There are many places we believe this is possible, and chief among them is the Region’s mainline route, the 7.
We’ve been advocating for a rationalization of the Route 7, for several years now, and in light of this year’s service improvements, it’s time to look at how the case for Route 7 rationalization is stronger than ever. In brief, a problem of high-volume local east-west demand around the universities leads to service reliability problems, requiring duplicated service to make up for late buses. Duplicated service (i.e. empty buses following full ones) inflates the operating cost while increasing wait times. Rationalization of Route 7 represents an easy win to separate different demand patterns, providing better service for everyone at the same cost, while also minimizing “Bus Roulette” when the next bus cannot be easily predicted. Route 7 in the university area is a case where Human Transit might say that “‘transferring’ can be good for you and good for your city”. (more…)

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iXpress loves you and wants you to be happy

GRT 2014 Budget Opportunities

Last night there was a public input session for the Region of Waterloo 2014 budget, following the release of the first budget draft. This is what we presented there on the subject of transit funding:

The Tri-Cities Transport Action Group believes that it is very important for the Region of Waterloo to continue on its present path of transit improvement. This requires investment, but not making that investment will be costlier in the medium and long term. Still, we recognize the difficult budget decisions that must be made. Therefore we commend staff for the recommendations before you, which have avoided cuts to investment that could jeopardize the momentum of, and confidence in, iON or iXpress.

While it can be disappointing to see proposed cuts to hours of operation and frequency on certain routes, we are heartened that route rationalization is a major consideration. We feel there are a number of other opportunities for change, similar to the kinds of network changes that have been made recently when iXpress routes are introduced.

(more…)

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Major Transit Increases Begin

This year will be the first year of a new program of major transit improvements in Waterloo Region.

Last night Regional Council passed its 2011 budget, with a 0.75% increase for Police Services and a 0.72% increase for everything else. Thanks to some uploading to the province, the service improvements this year still leave the overall increase (1.43%) well below the 2.2% or so current level of inflation.

The most notable aspect of this year’s budget is its inclusion of an increase to fund the first year of the 20-year Regional Transportation Master Plan (RTMP), which calls for a major shift in focus to transit. The plan calls for an increase of 1.15-1.2% to fund transit over the first five years, and then ramping up to 1.3-1.5% in the subsequent fifteen years. This year staff had asked for 1.25% in order to avoid that ramp-up later, which would have seeded the newly-created RTMP Reserve Fund with $4.05 million. (more…)

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TriTAG Asks Regional Council for Overnight iXpress in 2011

(Below is the statement I made at yesterday’s Regional budget input meeting. Please call and write your regional councillors expressing your support for these initiatives. Their contact information is at the following link: http://bit.ly/hvkN5t)

Hi, I’m Tim Mollison, I live in Kitchener, and I’m here to represent the The Tri-Cities Transport Action Group, or TriTAG. TriTAG was founded in May 2009 with the idea that people should be able to walk, cycle, and take transit to everywhere they need to go, with dignity. These modes should be accessible to as many people as possible, and made as useful as possible, because transit and active transportation are better for the environment, public health, and the form of our cities.

I’m here this evening to speak about the Regional Transportation Master Plan. (more…)

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Proposed GRT Expansion in the 2011 Regional Budget

There’s exciting news for people who have entered the recent rapid transit debates asking for improved bus service: the proposed 2011 Waterloo Region budget delivers the first in a series of major expansions of bus service as part of the Regional Transportation Master Plan (RTMP).

Background

According to the Region’s major issue paper on the RTMP (PDF currently unavailable), the plan “places a greater emphasis on transit to maximize the use of the limited road space and to plan for a sustainable future.” It does this “to achieve the compact urban form as prescribed by Ontario’s Places to Grow Growth Plan and the Regional Official Plan,” and to do this it incorporates into the transit system some form of Rapid Transit along the urban corridor that connects Waterloo, Kitchener, and Cambridge.

There are many reasons that the RTMP was adopted, but the three driving factors are: first, the Region is obligated by provincial law to channel 40% of growth into existing urban areas (through the Places to Grow Act); second, the Region will see a population increase the size of another Kitchener over the next 20 years; and third, roads are more costly to build and maintain and less effective at channeling growth than investments in public transit, cycling, and walking.

The RTMP includes but is not limited to Rapid Transit. It also includes plans for expanding existing bus service, adding as many as 11 new iXpress-like routes servicing the east and west parts of Kitchener and Waterloo and linking the suburbs to the urban corridor. For maps showing short and long-term changes to Grand River Transit routes, see the last two pages of the major issue paper.

The 2011 Budget: bus route expansion begins

The Region has proposed a number of increases to service on existing routes, in particular on the iXpress, on the 7 around the universities, and on the 52 in Cambridge. If approved, it will add a new iXpress-like route along Fischer-Hallman, realign the 12 to follow Westmount and extend Route 29 to Ira Needles.

To achieve this expansion, the region will have to purchase “19 new buses and provide 75,550 additional service hours annually (a 13.2% increase in service hours).” The changes will take place in two parts, iXpress improvements in June 2011, and the rest in September.

This year’s changes will also include changes to the transit technology, with “increased access to accurate travel information in real-time, more reliable service with less delays and a more convenient fare payment system.”

Costs and where the money is coming from

Expanding the transit system is not cheap, but then, none of the options for accommodating at least 40% of 200,000 new people and 80,000 new jobs within the existing urban areas are cheap.

The budget proposes increasing transit fares by 5% per year, with an increase going into effect in July 2011.

But what about the impact on property taxes we keep hearing about? If you add together all the increases based on inflation, approved commitments, funding for the RTMP (1.25%) and New Issues and Critical Service Enhancements, then subtract budget adjustments and the 2011 Upload Savings (from the province taking back the responsibility for funding some programs), the net increase is 1.23%. For an average home that pays $1,500 in Regional taxes annually (out of $3,000 total in property taxes), this would be an increase of $18.50 per year, or about $1.50 per month. Note that this does not factor in changes to the police, city, or school board budgets.

To get involved or learn more

Update: The 2011 budget has been finalized, and in addition to the issues discussed here, there are many programs of interest, including arts funding, poverty reduction, and health programs. You can find out more about the budget here.

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