Edmonton hikes transit fares in 2025 amid revenue shortfall, looks to fill low-income pass gap

“Compared to 2019, fewer people are using transit to commute to and from work due to hybrid work arrangements.”

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Taking the bus or LRT will be more expensive next year, and the city is looking for ways to fill a $10-million gap for low-income transit passes as revenues across the service remain too low.

Edmonton Transit Service (ETS) is planning to charge 25 cents more for one-time fares and about $1 to $2 more for most monthly passes or fare caps, including for low-income riders, a report presented to council’s executive committee on Thursday states. Youth and students ages 6-24, however, will pay less — passes and ARC fare caps are set to drop to $66 from $73 per month.

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Cash fares will rise to $3.75 from $3.50 per trip, while riders using ARC cards will pay $3 instead of $2.75 per trip. While riders will pay more per trip, their monthly costs won’t increase by much — the adult ARC fare cap will be $102 instead of $100 per month, with the cap for seniors set at $36 instead of $35. Low-income earners will pay $1 more for the adult and youth monthly passes, up to $36 or $51 depending on the subsidy tier.

ETS’ is making far less money than before the COVID-19 pandemic despite ridership returning close to 2019 levels.

ETS branch manager Carrie Hotton-MacDonald told councillors that, like many other major Canadian cities, bus trip volumes are recovered but the volume of trips via LRT and paratransit are still below pre-pandemic levels. Riders have changed the way they travel, she said, which impacts the volume of trips and types of fare products they use.

“Compared to 2019, fewer people are using transit to commute to and from work due to hybrid work arrangements,” she said. “We know safety and security concerns for people have changed some of the LRT trips they’re taking (in the evening).”

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“Valley Line is performing very well … but it’s a shift in behaviour that all of us are witnessing with our systems.”

Despite the drop in revenues, more people need to take transit but can’t afford to pay the full cost, putting futher pressure on the budget.

Despite a recommitment from the province to continue ride transit funding, ETS is still expecting a more than $10 million shortfall in 2024.

“Due to affordability concerns, more people are purchasing discounted subsidized fare products,” Hotton-MacDonald explained. “It’s putting pressure, and we have a negative fare revenue variance this year and we believe ride transit is one component of it.”

Council requested staff draft a report with options on how to fill the ride transit funding gap.

Other reasons fare revenues are lower than expected could be because of decisions made by ETS.

Hotton-MacDonald acknowledged its modelling for trips and revenues may have relied on some faulty assumptions.

ETS is losing money because of the transition from paper passes to the Arc cards system, because fewer regions are using Arc than expected, and people are not “remembering to tap validators in LRT stations,” according to a staff report. There are also issues with the reliability of some payment validators, though about 98 per cent of validators are working, another report said.

The city is also ramping up fare inspections and adding voiceover announcements reminding people taking the train to pay.

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@laurby

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