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Free seniors transit on Mondays, or Two for a Toonie?

Since 2013 Oakville seniors can ride the bus free on Mondays.
Since 2013 Oakville seniors can ride the bus free on Mondays.

Burlington transit staff are proposing a Senior’s Transit Fare of “Two for a Toonie” rather than free transit one day a week. The proposal is in response to a staff direction I brought during the 2015 budget deliberations asking staff to evaluate and report back on a proposal for one day of free transit for seniors.

Public transit locations in the GTHA have implemented various seniors transit fare programs in the past few years and the various programs were reviewed for potential implementation in Burlington.

City staff prepared a business case for the city’s 2016 operating budget outlining two options, as follows:

Free Mondays – This would allow any citizen over the age of 65 to ride on a Burlington Transit Bus and Handi Van service all day on Mondays for free. Oakville Transit currently has this program in place. They have recently reviewed and evaluated this program and have reported decreased revenues from Seniors as well as reduced ticket sales and cash fares. Oakville Transit has reported increased ridership on Mondays, but that has not equated into additional ridership increases for the other days of the week. Staff do not recommend this to be implemented in Burlington and would recommend the Reduced Fare Option listed below.

Reduced Fare – In order to promote the use of Burlington Transit, a reduced fare during off-peak and weekend hours would provide opportunity to utilize the service in the off peak times of service. Currently, the Community Connection operates Monday to Friday between 10:00 am and 3:00 p.m. and has seen modest increases since its inception in May 2015. To help promote the use of Community Connection and other BT conventional routes, staff are recommending that the “TWO for a TOONIE” seniors program be created. This would allow two seniors to ride Burlington Transit conventional services between 10:00 am and 3:00 pm Monday to Friday as well as all day Saturday and Sundays. This program would start Saturday April 2nd 2016 and would end Sunday September 4th 2016. Mississauga Transit (Mi-Way) have recently implemented a pilot program that allows seniors to travel for $1 during designated times.

Staff also wish to promote the use of conventional services in the off peak period to assist Handi Van clients that can use conventional services with an opportunity to explore regular transit services to find new ways of travelling through Burlington. Staff believe that providing alternative transportation options and promoting Seniors travelling together will allow for a higher degree of success in the off peak times. Staff are suggesting that this program will encourage use and increase ridership during the off peak times. Currently 40% of seniors travel is conducted during off peak and weekends.

Introducing the “TWO for a TOONIE” Seniors program starting April 2nd and ending September 4th will encourage seniors to travel during less busy times which would offer them a more enjoyable time to travel and see transit as a viable travel option. The “TWO for a TOONIE” seniors program would cost $14,000 based on current off-peak and weekend ridership.

You can find the above staff business case on Page 45 of the Operating Budget Book:

2016_Proposed_Operating_Budget_Book_Web

Oakville experience:

Earlier this fall, the Burlington Seniors Advisory Committee asked one of their members to independently research the Oakville free transit for seniors program. The findings were presented at the last BSAC meeting (I sit on BSAC as the council representative).

In 2012, Oakville council approved a pilot program for free transit on Mondays from July 2 to Sept. 24. The results of the pilot project showed:

  • a 578% increase in seniors ridership on Mondays from 2,900 (in 2010) and  2,200 (in 2011) to 15,151 during the pilot
  • seniors ridership increased 20% on the two Mondays immediately following the pilot than it was pre-pilot
  • seniors ridership increased on all but two rush hour-only bus routes
  • rather than a decline in ridership on Tuesdays as a result of free transit on Mondays, there was in fact an 8.6% increase during the pilot, indicating that seniors were using transit more often even on days when a fare was required
  • while overall transit ridership in 2012 increased by less than 3% year to date, it increased by 25.9% among seniors. Even if the additional non-revenue generating rides which occurred on the Mondays of the pilot are removed, senior ridership was still up 14.9% over the same period in 2011. The two major factors influencing this outcome are the SPLIT program and the Free Transit on Mondays pilot.
  • due to the free ride, revenue from senior ridership dropped by 13.1 per cent. However the total cost of the pilot was $11,306 — far less than the $20,000 initially anticipated – which translates to an annualized projected cost of $45,200.
  • based on the success of the program, Oakville city council voted in December 2012 to make free transit for seniors on Mondays permanent.

Read the staff report, ridership analysis and public survey below:

Oakville Free Ride for Seniors – Public Survey

Oakville Free Seniors Transit – Pilot Program Ridership Results

Oakville Transit – staff report Pilot Results – Free Transit for Seniors

BSAC will be studying these reports with a view to coming to a consensus at their January meeting, to provide feedback to council about a preferred transit seniors fare option. The Burlington Seniors Centre Board will also be studying the options in order to provide feedback to council.

Your Take: What’s your preferred option? Free Mondays? Two for Toonie? Both? Neither? Something else? Let me know.

My Take: Based on further analysis of the Oakville experience, I believe free Mondays is a viable option to achieve the goal of increasing seniors ridership not only on Mondays but throughout the week. Making it easier for seniors to get around reduces isolation and increases their ability to participate in the life of the community – valuable goals that can’t be measured in dollars and cents. I also believe the Two for Toonie program would be difficult to communicate and would cause confusion, in part due to restricted hours and questions around the fare for seniors who are travelling alone.

I was inspired to seek public office because I believe, like so many of you, “I can do something about that” on the issues we face. As councilor, my role is to take a stand on what’s best for residents and go to bat for it. Pushback is inevitable from those who don’t have the community’s interests at heart. I will stand with you and for you, to achieve the best interests of our city, without caving to unacceptable compromise in the name of consensus.

12 Comments

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  1. Not all seniors have someone to travel with, and would that second person have to be a senior? I would favour the $1.00 per ride for seniors using the bus system off hours, However if the off hours align themselves with the community bus service now in place it would not be of great value to the senior. Many classes at the Burlington Senior Centre start way before 10:00am and for those who need a ride for medical reasons they often have to be at labs etc. early in the morning.

    For any program to be successful it needs to work for the people targeted. If the Community Bus is not being utilized I would have to think that the hours just don’t work.

  2. I would favor keeping Monday’s as free for seniors. The other option of doing the special any day of the week would be hard to keep track of.

    Dennis

  3. I would favor the $1 per ride. Free rides means that eventually the costs must rise (for all). The $1 ride offsets the loss in revenue and I believe will increase ridership on Mondays. If successful then extend it to all days. Cy Mills

  4. Based on the fact that I see these monster buses racing around the downtown core all day long with no riders, I think that free transit to seniors at all times would make sense. I have a hard time believing that public transit in Burlington is profitable, so why not give the drivers something to do and pick up seniors. But on the other hand, even that might not entice more prospective passengers. You may need to heat every bus stop to encourage seniors to step outdoors and wait for a bus.

  5. I like the idea of the reduced fare for the community connection bus but, like Mississauga it should be $1. Statistically many seniors are single and isolated and may need to travel by bus to a social activity. Limiting them on a TWO for $2 if a senior has no one to travel with defeats the purpose of a senior getting out and using the bus.

    Another issue I would be concerned with is fare parity, as you do not have to be a senior to use the community connection bus. So, will all persons riding the community connections bus be offered to the reduced fare?

    My preference for the reduced fare is due to those seniors living with a low income do not necessarily have the energy to complete all their errands on one day of free transit. Reduced fare to $1 would allow them to spread out errands and appointments as needed for their energy and physical ability without overspending on transit costs.

    • You know something, in the UK when a person turns 65 they get ->***FREE***<- transportation on ALL modes of transportation except for the National Services!!! We took a trip with our relatives from Rainford to St Helens (Bus); from St Helens to Manchester (train); from the train stn to the waterfront (subway); Ferry cross the Mersey & then a reverse of all that, it was *****FREE***** for our UK relatives. The UK government recognizes the contributions its seniors have made! BUT OF COURSE it wouldn't work on this side of the pond, its stick it to everybody & gouge them for every penny you can get irregardless of age. So Burlington you can take your proposal of a possible WHOPPING ONE DAY FREE or is it ride for a A TOONIE and FORGET IT, give us seniors FREE transportation period or forget it!!! Mind you your quick in raising our taxes to pay for your Performing Arts Centre & Pier to Nowhere eh?!?!?

    • I think a reduced senior fare is the best option if the goal is to make transit affordable/accessible for seniors. In Toronto the fare for seniors is $2 anytime. The $1 fare in off peak hours also makes sense and still provides some flexibility.
      Limiting it to one day of the week is too restrictive. A low income senior may need to have appointments etc. on other days.
      I strongly disagree with the barrier of having to travel with another person in order to get affordable transit.

What's your take?