In the wake of a heated debate between councillors on Tuesday, Halifax is one step closer to a small hike in the municipality’s transit fares.
Halifax Regional Council passed the first reading of a $.25 increase for all riders by a vote of nine to six, which means adults will soon be expected to pay $2.75 while seniors will pay $2.00.
Halifax Transit had built the fare increase into their projected budget for the upcoming fiscal year after it was included in the Halifax Regional Municipality’s 2019/2020 budget process.
But some councillors appeared wary to follow through on the increase for seniors.
“I view transportation as similar to water and sewage. It’s a fact of modern life,” said Coun. Richard Zurawski, who described any proposed fare increase as a “non-starter” during Tuesday’s debate.
Coun. Tim Outhit expressed similair concerns, saying that the municipality would be shooting itself in the foot if they passed the fare hike.
“Other cities are looking at free service. We’re looking at increases. Something is wrong here,” said Outhit.
Halifax last increased its fares in 2013, and staff said that if this fare increase was not passed by council, the Halifax Transit budget — which is reliant on the money it collects from fares — would be thrown into question.
That would have affected ongoing or planned transit projects, staff told council.
Coun. Sam Austin urged council to support the hike, saying that the increase is helping to cover inflation.
“Our fares are some of the lowest in the country and they will continue to be some of the lowest in the country,” Austin argue
The increase for seniors and adults is expected to help offset the losses caused by a planned pilot program offering free fares for children.
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In addition to a fare increase and the free youth pilot program, council agreed to request a supplementary report that would look at the income levels of seniors who are regular bus users while discussing a potential partnership with local education centres about a student transit pass.
A request for a staff report on implementing fees at the municipality’s park and ride facilities was defeated by council until Mayor Mike Savage pushed for council to reconsider the topic.
A debate on the potential staff report is now scheduled for the next meeting of Halifax Regional Council while the fare increase will have to approved at a second reading that has yet to be scheduled.