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Council delays cash fare increase for Edmonton transit users

Edmonton Transit buses on Friday, May 18, 2018. Global News

City council voted Wednesday to delay increasing the cash fare for Edmonton transit users.

The adult cash fare for a ride on the Edmonton Transit Service was scheduled to go up from $3.50 to $3.75 this May.

Council voted 12-1 Wednesday to delay the increase until February 2022, when the cash fare is set to increase to $4.

Read more: Edmonton group attempting to stop public transit fare increase

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson said a number of factors played into the decision to delay the fare increase.

“One of the things that was persuasive to council in the debate over the last week on this is that when the smart card comes in later this year, the pop-on rate is only going to be $3. So a lot of councillors asked whether it would be really fair to folks who don’t get that smart card to have to pay $3.75. So we’re going to keep it at $3.50 to narrow the gap,” he said.

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“But also so that there is still a spread because we want to encourage people to get on that smart card train, so to speak, when it comes later this year and take advantage of not just that incentive, but fare capping and a number of things that smart card makes possible that cash fares don’t.”

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The ETS Smart Fare system involves a pre-paid tap card that will allow for more flexible transit pay options, including pay-as-you-go, distanced-based fares and best fare.

In the first phase, select customers will be able to use a Smart Fare card to tap on/off transit and pay a flat fee for their trip. These customers (adults, U-Pass students, select Catholic and Public schools and transit staff) can take advantage of fare capping up to a daily or monthly maximum amount.

Phase 2, planned for 2022, will include programs like the ride transit program and a seniors annual pass.

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In later phases, customers will be able to take advantage of open payment using their credit card, debit card or compatible devices to tap on/off transit in seven participating municipalities: Edmonton, St. Albert, Strathcona County, Fort Saskatchewan, Leduc, Spruce Grove and Beaumont.

Read more: Border closure due to COVID-19 puts brakes on Edmonton transit’s smart fare system

Iveson said the COVID-19 pandemic also played a role in the decision to freeze the cash fare.

“People are both struggling economically in many cases but also, it is in our interest to reduce barriers to accessing the transit system and a fare hike in the middle of the third wave just didn’t feel right.”

Free Transit Edmonton, a grassroots campaign with a goal of free transit for all, said it was pleased with council’s decision. The group gathered a petition with 1,800 signatures in support of the fare freeze.

“The fare freeze was a necessary first step in addressing inequality in our city,” said Paige Gorsak, an organizer with Free Transit Edmonton. “We are glad to see council did the right thing in listening to the demands from the Edmonton community. There is still much more work to be done to create a truly equitable city, but this win against an unjust fee hike shows that when communities organize, we win.”

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A one-time ETS budget reduction of $473,000 was also approved in order to defer the transit fare increase, which will be funded by a transfer from the Financial Stabilization Reserve.

“It is on a one-time basis. So the next council is going to have to revisit what the right fares should be,” Iveson added.

Read more: Edmonton’s bus routes are changing. Here’s how to plan your trip

Carrie Hotton-MacDonald, branch manager with ETS, said about four per cent of riders pay with cash and about 12 per cent of fare revenue comes from cash.

The phased implementation of the Smart Fare program is set to roll out on Sept. 1, Hotton-MacDonald said.

Councillor Mike Nickel was the lone councillor to vote against the motion.

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