Calgary is becoming the first major city to do away with low transit fares for seniors
Marsden: Calgary Transit fare hikes would take seniors for a ride
The annual $15 pass for low-income pensioners and the $95 annual pass for regular seniors will no longer be offered to new registrants after July 2015, if politicians accept Calgary Transit’s recommendations. Now granted, $15 is too little to charge for a year’s worth of access to the system; it might as well be free at that price. But council would be hard-hearted to increase the fee for seniors of ordinary means to the same rate that youth pay, as they’re being urged — $2 for a single-trip ticket today and $60 for a monthly pass.
As a comparison, Edmonton provides its seniors with a pass for $125 a year and $54 a year for those living on a low income. Heck, Calgary Transit even provides its retirees with free annual passes, using the fares paid by other seniors to subsidize the cost of a ride for former employees.
Calgarians as a rule are respectful of seniors and won’t tolerate their mistreatment — by thugs on the street corner or by bureaucratic bullies trying to pluck more revenue from those existing on modest incomes. The fact is that the truly well off are likely to prefer their own car to riding the bus, regardless of age. Seniors who are using transit are by and large doing so out of necessity, so they deserve to be in a category all their own, rather than being treated as no different than young people or others who are poor.
It might be tempting to cheer the plan to charge every low-income person $44 a month, regardless of their age, as egalitarian. The problem, though, is that seniors’ financial conditions are unlikely to improve, while young people are often in dire straits for only a short time. As well, when younger people are able-bodied, they’re capable of improving their lot — a choice that isn’t usually available to seniors.
The other reality the proposed fee structure overlooks is seniors’ travelling habits. They’re not likely to be crowding onto the bus or CTrain first thing in the morning and making their way home during the afternoon rush hour. They usually choose to use transit when ridership is at its lightest, leaving other adults and youth to compete for space when service is most in demand. And unlike other riders, who use transit to get to work or school five days a week, most seniors use the service more sparingly, justifying a break on what they’re asked to pay each month or year.
Besides, there’s no guarantee that putting the screws to old people will have the desired result. Neil McKendrick, Calgary Transit’s manager of operational planning, has conceded a series of hikes to the adult fare hasn’t raised the required revenue, because people are motivated to switch to options that offer better value.
“If the objective of increasing the fare was to raise more revenue so we could increase our service, we weren’t meeting our objectives very well,” said McKendrick.
Who’s to say that seniors will fall under Calgary Transit’s spell and continue to buy their passes at the greatly increased price? They’re just as likely to turn away from public transit and call a taxi or ride the bus or CTrain less often than they used to.
The sorry fact is that expanding transit service is forcing the fleecing of seniors. It’s understood that public transit is subsidized, but one would think that adding routes and extending hours would generate fresh revenue to help finance the improvements. When Starbucks opens a new outlet, or Passport Canada adds another office where Canadians can get their travel documents, they don’t increase the price of their products.
Quite honestly, if Calgary Transit needs to raise another $17.7 million a year for its growth, hurting seniors in the process, it calls into question the prudence of its plans. Under no circumstance should seniors be made to pay the price for transit mandarins’ dreams of a bigger and more costly system.
David Marsden is a member of the Herald editorial board.