News / Calgary

Fares fair? Calgary Transit discounts outrank other big cities

As city councillors debate hitting the brakes on discounted transit fares, Calgary Transit's head planner points out those customers are getting a sweet ride compared to others in big municipalities.

When it comes to charging for bus and LRT service, Calgary ranks among the cheapest for riders young and old, according to a report up for committee review on Wednesday.

Of Canada's nine most-populated cities, Calgarians aged six- to 17-years-old paid the lowest cash fare and day rate and the fourth-lowest monthly charge in 2013.

Seniors got the best annual bargain in the land. And Calgary was also in the minority offering a low-income transit pass, along with Edmonton, Ottawa and Hamilton.

Adult fares, on the other hand, tended to rank on the middle or higher end of the price scale.

"Transit has historically been the place where people say, 'Let's just give Joe a discount," said planning manager Neil McKendrick. "But the bottom line is that if you give Joe a discount then I gotta charge Ron more money."

McKendrick's comments come as Calgary Transit eyes ways to draw $17.7 million more from riders and taxpayers annually to pay for its $13-billion, 30-year expansion plan known as RouteAhead.

Right now, people who pay less than half the cost of a trip ($3.31) make up nearly 40 per cent of the ridership.

In order to fill a widening budget gap, the microscope has been put on subsidized fares.

Kim Jones, with advocacy group TransitCamp YYC, noted students, seniors and low-income earners will likely have to pay for transit no matter what it costs.

"Care must be taken to not overburden vulnerable Calgarians with increased fares beyond what they can pay," Jones said.

She suggested adding an extra toll for out-of-town riders, bringing in distance-based fares under the electronic fare card system and developing city land near transit would help ease the cash crunch.

Fast facts: 

  • With an average fare of $1.53, Calgary Transit charged less than the average of Canada's nine largest Canadian cities ($1.64) in 2012.
  • Calgarians are offered the same level of transit service, on a per capita-basis, as in 1981.
  • Alberta is the only province that doesn't specifically fund city transit operations, according to a new report.

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