LTC asks city hall for extra $1.3 million

The London TransitCommission needs another$1.3 million from city hall to make next year’s budget work, two thirds of which will go to expanding bus service in the city.

The ask, for a total of $32.8 million, is a 4.3 per cent hike over last year’s city hall investment, and represents about 40 per cent of the total $84 million budget for the London’s transit agency in 2019.

“If you want to make improvements such as frequent service to industrial areas, service into subdivisions where you’re not getting significant amounts of ridership, then the city has to pay more,” said LTC general manager Kelly Paleczny.

“If you’ve got a municipality that wants to increase . . . the social aspect of the transit service, that means they have to invest at a higher level.”

The rest of the operating budget is funded by operating revenue, such as fares, and provincial gas tax.

The London Transit Commission (LTC), which will table its 2019 operating budget at a meeting this week, is part way through a five-year plan to expand bus service in London. Next week, 24,000 more hours of bus service will be added to the schedule, including shifting start times on a dozen routes to 7 a.m. from 9 a.m. on Sundays.

“That’s something customers have been asking for, for a long time,” Paleczny said.

A similar expansion – 17,700 more hours – is planned for next fall, which falls under the 2019 budget. That will include transition of the remaining Sunday routes to a 7 a.m. start time.

Close to two-thirds of the requested increase in city hall contribution – for conventional and paratransit services in 2019 – would go toward increasing service.

City hall traditionally funds that kind of expansion using assessment growth revenue, Paleczny said.

But Coun. Phil Squire, also a transit commissioner, isn’t convinced the investment is paying off. He wants to see those dollars get more Londoners on the bus. Ridership increases are projected at 1.5 per cent in 2019.

“To provide more service, they’re asking for more money,” he said. “I’m concerned as we move forward that we’re not going to get the revenue numbers we’re going for.”

A higher base budget for LTC – approved by council in the 2016-2019 multi-year budget – was a good move, Squire said, adding “there’s no question we were underfunding” transit.

But he’s concerned that investment, as well as the cash council is forking over for subsidized monthly passes and the proposed bus rapid transit (BRT) network, won’t drive up ridership as expected.

“I’m not convinced that any of them are going to increase ridership, and if they don’t, we’re going to have ever-increasing contributions by the city to transit,” he said.

Squire has advocated for a discounted transit pass for teens, which is starting as a pilot project this fall. Riders between 13 and 17 years old will be able to buy a monthly pass for $52, the same as the discounted rate for low-income adults.

It has to start as a pilot project, he said, to analyze the impact on riders.

Paleczny argued city hall contributions to transit are still among the lowest in Ontario. The city’s share is less than 40 per cent in the 2019 transit budget.

“(That’s) significantly lower than the averages across the province, which are up to high 40, 50 per cent,” she said.

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