LTC’s Threatened Fare Hike

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I’ve thought for quite a while that the senior management at the LTC is clearly incompetent, but the news that a fare increase is being proposed (“LTC wants 10% hike in fares“; London Free Press; 2008/09/04) is remarkably stupid even for them.

The LTC’s Larry Ducharme is quoted as saying that “This is a reality check, a watershed budget.” Well, here’s a reality check for Larry…

When LTC made a decision to increase user rates in 1988, the results were predictable. Ridership decreased year after year for the next 8 years from it’s peak 1988 level of 18,761,000 to only 11,905,000 in 1996. And as bad as those raw numbers might appear, the reality is even worse.

“Whereas the 18,761,000 riders in 1988 represented a very modest mode share of 10%, the 18,276,000 riders which the service attracted in 2005 only represent a mode share of 7%. In order to match projected population growth and simply recapture the 10% share, the TMP estimates that ridership has to grow an average 600,000 additional rides per year, every year, until 2024.”01

Do we even know what the ridership numbers really are? Larry Ducharme has been going around touting a great ridership increase for some time now, but can we believe him?

Let’s review the communication that I sent Mr. Ducharme more than a year ago. The one that nobody at the LTC has replied to despite several follow-up inquiries …

Date: Mon, 27 Aug 2007 10:40:42 -0700 (PDT)
From: “Gregory Fowler”
To: “Larry Ducharme”
Subject: LTC Ridership

Sir,

In the past, I have communicated my concern to you that raw ridership numbers are relatively meaningless, because they do not reflect the corresponding increase in the city population. However, it did not occur to me that there was any reason to question those raw numbers. I simply accepted them at face value.

Having re-examined all of the staff reports re ‘Financial Update – Passenger Riding’ which are available on the LTC website as part of your meeting agendas, I now have a question with respect to the accuracy of the reported raw ridership numbers.

By your own admission, there has been a marked trend “away from the cash and ticket categories to the pass category.”

Although the cash and ticket categories can be very accurately measured, ridership for the pass category can only be calculated.

As I understand it, you have created something that you call “ride factors” which are based upon “expected usage” of those passes, and you then pad (fudge?) the measured ridership (cash & ticket) to arrive at your published ridership numbers. Worse still, “factors are adjusted as required…”

Required for what purpose? So that it will appear that you are experiencing a growth in ridership?

How hard would it be for you to take an actual head count? An accurate measurement of the number of individuals who actually board LTC buses month by month? Instead of simply guessing?

Greg Fowler
962 Eagle Crescent
London, Ontario; N5Z 3H7

https://frommybottomstep.wordpress.com

We are also aware that Council identified “building a progressive transportation system” as a strategic priority within its 2007-2010 strategic plan, yet London remains the lowest contributor among its peer municipalities… if City Council ultimately abdicates its leadership by maintaining a 3.5% cap, we urge you to resist making up the gap on the backs of students, and other transit riders.
(source: UWO Students’ Council)

But even if you want to give Larry Ducharme the benefit of the doubt and assume that the LTC’s ridership guesses are accurate enough, how does that justify a rate increase? Mr. Ducharme has repeatedly said that transit users in this city pay more per-capita than users in other cities. In other words, despite it’s rhetoric, City Council has been underfunding the LTC for years.

It was only last April that our City Council spent all of the $5.8M that it got from the province for rehabilitating paved roads.02

Right now, London is flush with at least $33M from the upper levels of government for transportation-related projects.03 Shouldn’t a large percentage of that be used to improve services for pedestrians, bicyclists, and public transit users? Should the city have to be threatened with lawsuits before it will spend money on important alternative transportation needs like walkway lighting and maintenance?04

And then of course, there’s the argument that always gets ignored. The fact that those citizens who are most in need, use public transit the most. Because they have to. Because their lives depend upon it. You heard about the supposed need for a fare increase, but did you hear anything about the plea for public transit funding for the disabled?05

Some progressive cities aren’t afraid to admit that reality, and to recognize that our society cannot afford the escalating social cost of the disparity between rich and poor. Just last March, Hamilton began providing half-price passes for employed but poor residents. An increasing number of cities are studying the common-sense idea of free public transit (see links below).

Where are London’s progressive politicians?

Sources:
01. 2007/01/06 – FMBS: My public letter to Paul Berton
02. 2008/04/07 – CityLondon: ETC agenda item #9
03. 2008/08/26 – FMBS: What to do with $33M?
04. 2008/08/26 – FMBS: Should London be sued?
05. 2008/07/31 – LTC: Funding Public Transport re ODSP/CPP-D

Other Links:
2006/02/18 – FMBS: Joanna Kurowski’s convoluted answer
2007/12/19 – FMBS: Shooting for Free Transit
2008/01/09 – FMBS: Ted Kheel’s Fight for Free Public Transit
2008/01/28 – FMBS: CUPE’s Poverty Reduction Proposal
2008/04/20 – FMBS: Increasing Credibility of Free Transit

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