Citing low ridership of the municipal transit bus in the first six months of a planned one-year pilot project, Meaford Councillor Shirley Keaveney suggested to council that the $4 fare could be a barrier for many potential users, and she asked council to consider lowering the fare.
“I wanted to ask council's opinion on the thought of making a reduction in the fare for our transit bus,” Keaveney told council at their February 6 meeting. “I know that the useage is minimal, I know that we're not getting too much in the way of ridership, and my theory is that if it's $4 for a trip now, that if we lowered it to $2 and had twice as many riders, that would seemingly be a better use of that bus.”
Meaford launched its new scheduled public transit program on in September, and for the first two weeks residents were able to use the service for free, but after that a fare of $4 was implemented. Keaveney noted that shortly after Meaford launched its transit pilot project, Clearview Township launched a similar service with a fare of just $2.
“I have had people tell me that $4 is too much, it's a dozen eggs, it's a bag of milk. For seniors and those on fixed incomes, it is a lot, so I'd like to propose to council that we have a discussion about lowering that rate to $2 and see if we can't increase the use,” Keaveney told council.
Meaford Treasurer Darcy Chapman told council that part of the problem might be the dual use, and disjointed scheduling of the service, as well as the convenience offered by taxis and delivery services.
“I'm not too sure if the fare is an issue, but then I'm holed up in an office all day, and not walking the beat like you councillors are,” Chapman told council. “The fare was generally fair based on other transit systems that we looked at. But taxis are immediately convenient, and even more so than that, the delivery services are well used in this community as well so people don't even go out. Transit is a bit of an uphill battle in any community, but it's all about making sure it's there and it's accessible and available for people. Our bigger hurdle is probably just the timing right now because we're trying to still use it for accessible services and for conventional services. If we freed the bus up so that it could run 8 to 5, on the same route all the time, it would probably be more convenient for people.”
In July of last year, Meaford council gave unanimous final approval to an in-town public transit one-year pilot project comprised of an in-town fixed route, which would utilize the under-used municipal Handi-van. Those who had been registered users of the door-to-door municipal Handi-van service, which provides transportation to those with disabilities and mobility issues, are still be able to continue using that service with revised hours of operation, and the conventional transit service currently bookends that service with a morning run and afternoon runs.
“Specialized transit services for eligible residents with mobility limitations will continue to be offered Monday to Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.,” advised the municipality last summer.
The conventional transit service has been operating from 8 a.m. until 10 a.m., and then in the afternoon from 2:30 until 5 p.m., a schedule that Chapman suggests might deter riders from using the service.
“If we freed the bus up so that it could run 8 to 5 on the same route all the time, it would probably be more convenient for people because right now people have to make sure that they are available to use it during the times that we've got in the morning or late afternoon, and maybe they're worried about getting stranded at one end of the town or the other because the bus is going off route,” suggested Chapman.
Mayor Barb Clumpus noted the $2 fare for the Clearview transit bus which runs between Creemore, Wasaga Beach, and Stayner, and agreed that the fare should be revisited by council.
“It seems to me that we're trying a pilot project here, and change is always difficult, it always takes much longer than we think to effect a change in behaviour, and we've never had public transit, so it might take a little bit longer to have folks used to having public transit, and relying on it in terms of routes and timing, hence the pilot project. I think it's worth a gamble to reduce our fare to $2 and see whether this does effect the number of users of our transit system,” suggested the mayor.
Council asked staff to prepare a report for a future meeting relating to transit bus ridership and the impacts and other considerations related to lowering the fare from $4 to $2.