London, Ont. budget committee votes down transit funding increase

File photo of London Transit office. Matthew Trevithick / Global News

An amendment to push a budget hike for the London Transit Commission (LTC) has been shot down by council’s budget committee.

The budget tabled by Mayor Josh Morgan at the beginning of the month will only provide enough funding to maintain existing service levels through 2027.

During a budget meeting Thursday, Ward 13 Coun. David Ferreira and ward 11 Coun. Skylar Franke proposed an amendment that would restore $1.6 million in funding for 18,000 service hours.

“(The amendment) will have a .2 per cent increase on property tax for 2024, bringing it back to 8.8 per cent, where the mayor’s budget originally stood,” Ferreira said.

While the increase would have been more than what is currently proposed in the budget, Ferreira warned the committee that it wouldn’t be enough to address transit shortcomings.

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“It won’t even get us a new route,” he said.  “A new route is approximately 20,300 hours for a regular 30-minute frequency, so it’s not really going to help.”

Coun. Franke brought data from other cities in the discussion, saying the LTC has been “chronically underfunded by the city for decades.”

“As of 2019 and 2021 when the LTC compares with other cities of similar size, the LTC gets the lowest municipal subsidy in comparison,” she said. “The other cities’ transit systems get somewhere between 50 to 70% of their operating budget from their municipalities. This operating increase will bring us to the average, we are at the bottom right now.”

The budget committee was evenly split on supporting the amendment, with most recognizing the LTC’s funding struggles and the frustration Londoners feel with lacking service.

“We have many Londoners who are struggling right now who rely on that transit, I do think it’s a basic need,” said ward 4 Coun. Susan Stevenson. “To have 50 per cent of the buses overcapacity on our current routes just doesn’t work.”

Mayor Josh Morgan pointed out that the budget as proposed, while not having any increasing service levels, does have a substantial increase to both the LTC’s base budget and their paratransit offerings.

“$45 million of municipal base funding, not accounting for fare, or the gas tax, a move from that base by 2027 to $64.5 million,” Morgan said.

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“On top of that, there are other base allocations that were put in the budget that I tabled that bring that increase to $68 million…which is a 49 per cent increase.”

Slightly less warm on the amendment, deputy mayor Shawn Lewis brought up the recent fare increase that the LTC enacted.

“I’m very concerned that an organization that’s getting a 49% increase to its base budget, told us ridership was going to go down. Yet ridership has gone up (and now LTC) is telling us that they cannot make any new service improvements with all of this additional funding,” Lewis said. “I think that we have to ask some serious questions about the estimates and numbers we are getting from this organization.”

The amendment was voted down 8-7 at Thursday’s budget committee meeting. Councillors Anna Hopkins, Ferreira, Hadleigh McAlister, Jerry Pribil, Franke, Stevenson, and Sam Trosow all voted in support. All others were opposed.

As it stands, the proposed hike of 8.6 per cent for 2024 would add $282 to the tax bill of the “average” London home, assessed at $252,000.

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