Staff Says New Transit Initiatives Are a Success

Last year during the 2022-23 budget process, council approved two new projects to increase transit use. One of the new programs was a multi-tiered affordable bus pass, and the other was a pilot that let kids 12 and under ride transit for free. In two progress reports to council released Friday, City of Guelph staff are enthusiastic about the results of the program and are considering them to so far be a success.

As approved by city council last December, the new affordable pass offered three tiers for those with the lowest incomes: anyone below 50 percent of the Low Income Cut-Off (LICO) received a $4 monthly pass at Tier A; those below 75 percent of LICO were eligible for a $20 monthly pass at Tier B; and those in the 75 to 100 per cent of LICO range would be eligible for the regular affordable bus pass rates at Tier C.

According to staff, results in the first six months of the new program have been promising.

“After the first six months of the pilot, the number of people in the program increased by 25 per cent and the average number of monthly ABP pass sales increased by 62 per cent compared to pre-pilot numbers,” the report said.

By the numbers, there were just less than 700 affordable bus pass sales in January and that has increased almost every month this year. By October, 1,321 affordable bus passes had been sold that month, and though staff report that monthly increases were slowing, they’re still expecting an increase of at least three per cent per month until early 2023 when monthly sales will stabilize at nearly 1,5000 monthly sales, which is above the number of monthly sales pre-pandemic.

“In addition to an increase in participants and sales overall, people in the program were 36 percent more likely to purchase a monthly pass. While a portion of the increase can be attributed to emerging from the pandemic to more regular use of the program, direct feedback from users shows that the sliding scale pilot is a driving factor in the increase of monthly pass sales with 84 percent of respondents saying they now buy their pass every month, or almost every month, compared to 19 percent before the pandemic.”

People using the new affordable bus pass are also reporting an impact on their quality of life with 98 per cent of respondents saying that they’re re-investing their bus pass savings into basics like food and shelter, and 90 per cent saying that they now feel like they can move through the city more freely, and are feeling more connected to the community.

The 2022-23 budget allocated $385,000 from the Tax Operating Contingency Reserve to cover the cost of lost revenue for the new program. About $139,243 was used to offset loses for the first six months of the program and staff are estimating that another $193,212 will be spent between October 2022 and March 2023. That leaves $52,545 left over that could get the program through June 2023, but if council wants to continue things to the end of 2023 it will require additional one-time funding worth $47,000.

“If an extension to June 2023 is not supported, it could lead to some of the more vulnerable residents in Guelph being left without affordable access to transit with little notice,” said the report. “In addition, the short timeline between budget confirmation (January 25) to when April renewal letters are sent out (mid-February) means that communication will need to happen soon, and users will need to act quickly to obtain new cards.”

The report also says that an additional $100,000 in capital costs is need for Guelph Transit to update the Corporate Portal to allow not-for-profit agencies to provide their clients with real-time bus pass/tickets.

As for the other program, the Kids Ride Free pilot, staff characterize the first seven months of its existence as a “great success.”

“By the end of September 2022, 490 kids OnYourWay transit fare cards had been issued, and 10,138 boardings had occurred as part of the program,” a separate council report said. “By the end of the pilot, it is estimated that 625 kids OnYourWay transit cards will have been issued, and 25,007 boardings will have occurred through the program.”

“Key findings from the community engagement showed that 90 percent of survey respondents were supportive of making the program permanent,” it added. “Additionally, respondents were asked if they could choose a single group to receive free fares, who would it be for? As this was an open-ended question, there were a range of responses, but the Kids Ride Free pilot program was the most popular choice with 30.4 percent selecting this program.”

Those results were from an initial round of engagement completed in spring 2022 as part of the Transit Fare Strategy. A second round of engagement exclusively among the participants in Kids Ride Free reported that 90 per cent of respondents took transit nearly every day or a couple of times a week compared to only 70 percent before the pilot began, and all of them were supportive of making the program permanent.

Staff are projecting that the number of boardings will continue to increase three-to-five per cent per month over the next year if the pilot is made permanent, but that comes with a projected financial impact of $102,911 or a 0.04 per cent levy increase, and that could further increase to $117,072 in 2024.

Last December, council approved a one-time budget investment of up to $125,000, which was also taken from the Tax Operating Contingency Reserve, to fund the pilot program. The staff report for the pilot said that if its council intention to make both programs permanent, an investment of $94,000 will be needed in 2023, which is in addition to the projected revenue loss, and will mostly be needed for the staffing requirements for the programs.

City council will review and confirm the budget in January.

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