Kingston Council approves temporary cost reductions for affordable transit passes

Mayor Bryan Paterson speaks in regard to a motion to temporarily reduce the cost of affordable transit passes for 2023. Screen captured image.

At a meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023, Kingston City Council voted to approve a 50 per cent reduction in the cost of affordable transit passes for a period of nine months. Starting this April, the cost of affordable transit passes — which offer unlimited use of Kingston Transit at an already reduced rate for low-income users — will be lowered to accommodate those most acutely impacted by the current cost of living crisis. 

The decision stems from a motion approved by Council back in December, which asked staff to look for ways to reduce the cost of transit passes in 2023, in an attempt to provide “more affordable transit options” for Kingston residents. “High inflation over the last year has eroded the purchasing power of Kingston residents, making it harder for individuals and households to make ends meet,” the original motion read.

While the original motion included fare reductions for “regular monthly transit passes,” a staff report presented to councillors in advance of Tuesday’s meeting noted that such a move would result in a “significant loss of revenue” for the City. Instead, staff recommended a 50 per cent reduction in the cost of affordable transit passes only.

According to the report, temporarily reducing the costs of affordable passes will allow the City to “deliver significant savings to those riders most [in] need of reduced transit fares.” With these reductions, the cost of an adult affordable transit pass will be lowered to $20.00 a month, while seniors and youth will pay $14.88. 

During Tuesday’s meeting, Mayor Bryan Paterson called the motion “a really good path forward” and said it “addresses the cost of living challenges that we know many people in our community are facing right now… [A 50 per cent reduction] really hits the mark.”

In order to qualify for the affordable transit passes, individuals must be enrolled in the City’s Municipal Fee Assistance program, which is open to residents from lower-income households. According to the staff report, the City has recently undertaken a “comprehensive review” of the program, which includes an assessment of the income eligibility requirements.

Staff noted that a 50 per cent reduction in the cost of affordable transit passes could result in upwards of $264,000 in lost revenues for the City. To account for such losses, councillors also approved a measure to allocate an equal amount from the Working Fund Reserve, to ensure such a reduction does not impact the 2023 budget. “That we can [reduce transit fares] without impacting the property tax… I think that’s key as well,” noted Paterson. 

On top of the reductions to affordable transit passes, Kingston Transit’s 2023 recommended operating budget does not include any regular fare increases for 2023, which the mayor praised during his remarks. “For the broader community, we [have committed] to a zero per cent increase in fares for 2023. Food prices may have been rising by 10 per cent, [but] transit prices over the next year will rise by zero per cent… I think that’s an important statement as well.” 

Temporarily reducing the cost of affordable transit passes, while freezing the costs of all other fares and passes, not only provides more affordable transit options for Kingston residents, but may also help Kingston Transit return to pre-pandemic ridership levels. According to the staff report, “transit ridership is currently at about 72 per cent of where ridership was three years ago prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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