Even though it wasn’t on the original agenda, the subject of public transit took centre stage during Thompson city council’s April 15 meeting.
At the outset, Coun. Jeff Fountain moved to reintroduce a resolution to hike bus fares that was tabled during the March 18 meeting.
After lots of spirited discussion on the merits of increasing adult fees from $2 to $4 and student/senior bus fees from $1.50 to $2.50 per ride, and axing monthly passes entirely, council ultimately voted against the resolution by a 5-3 margin.
Similar to what went down March 18, Fountain was the biggest proponent of this fare hike, saying that the current transit system is unsustainable given the ratio of costs paid by the city to those paid by bus riders themselves.
“I would just like to remind the public that the cost of busing per ride is ridiculous,” he said. “Given the expenditures that we heard for the month of March, which is over $40,000, my guess is we recouped maybe $5,000.”
Coun. Earl Colbourne rebuked these statements by claiming that the city should be more aggressive in attracting ridership instead of putting a larger financial burden on its citizens.
“There is not enough advertising and knowledge of the bus schedules,” he said, echoing comments that were made by residents during the city’s April 9 public transit meeting.
“So until we do our due diligence on that … why are we going to increase the prices when we should be trying to attract more riders instead of scaring people away with rate increases?”
Fountain eventually tried to compromise and amend the proposed resolution, so that adult fees would only increase from $2 to $3 and student/senior passes from $1.50 to $2. However, the majority of council didn’t go for this change.
Councillors Les Ellsworth and Andre Proulx both advocated for delaying the final vote and bringing this issue back to the city’s public transit ad hoc committee for future study.
“I don’t think this is the right time to decide about fares without analyzing the data,” said Proulx. “We haven’t had an ad hoc meeting after our public meeting, so I think it’s a little too soon to figure out what the numbers should be for fares.”
Coun. Duncan Wong said this move would be a pointless, since they already have eight years of data to help make an informed decision.
“Saying we need to do studies is baloney,” he said. “We already have all the statistics going back to 2011, so I don’t know what else we need to know about ridership and expenses and the breakdowns of how much it costs.”
Coun. Judy Kolada was also in favour of voting right away.
Since the city’s current public transit contract with Maple Bus Lines is set to expire at the end of June, she thought council could use the next two-and-a half months as a testing ground to see whether or not increasing fares could actually help them turn a profit.
Ultimately, only Fountain, Wong and Kolada were in favour of increasing local transit rates, while the rest of council voted against this resolution.
Deputy mayor Kathy Valentino was not present for Monday’s meeting and, thus, did not vote.
The next Thompson city council meeting is April 29 at 7 p.m.