Concordia Student Protests Planned ETS Fare Hike

By Reid Offers

Although the majority of Concordia’s student body commutes to school via personal vehicles, some students, myself included, utilise the city’s public transit to get to classes. When a classmate of mine told me that the fares were going to rise, I originally didn’t think that much into it. “What’s the big deal if it goes up by a quarter or even a buck?” I thought. Then I had to sit back and think outside of my situation for a moment. Just because I wouldn’t mind the rise in price doesn’t mean that the other 15% of Edmontonians who use public transit to get to work would. With this in mind, he invited me to join him to protest the raises at City Hall and I couldn’t resist to get my first taste of municipal politics.

Maxwell Klaus Fanta, a first-year Political Economy student, is part of an organisation called the YCL which helps supports student workers and the working class. He and the YCL gathered in Churchill Square on November 15 to protest the planned fare increases outside City Hall. When asked why they were protesting, here is what he said:

“Student workers are among the most marginalised level of the working class because rises in cost of living are detrimental to them.”

Photo of Maxwell reading aloud the objections to the fare rise

Why is the city Wanting to Raise Fares?

To date, the current ETS fare is $3.25 per ride, or about the same price as Toronto’s and Montreal’s public transportation systems. The rise in the fares would be implemented progressively over the coming years into the city budget, rising 25 cents a year and capping it at $4 per ride in 2021. The City estimates that the rise in 2019 alone could bring in $700,000 to the budget. The rise in prices is supposed to mean a better service for Edmontonians who use ETS, according to Mayor Don Iveson. An overhaul coming over the city’s bussing routes and the ability to pay by card with a smart-fare system are supposed to come into effect in 2020 as well. All of these plans seem fine and dandy, but what about the current issues at hand with ETS as a whole?

Current Issues with ETS

Of the multitude of issues pegging the city’s transportation system, one of the most prevalent is the ross in ridership over the last couple years. Ridership dropped by 600,000 in 2015 alone and the LRT witnessed a near 10% drop that year as well. Rises in fare prices in the past have demonstrated a loss of ridership as well. When the city last raised the price in 2016, upwards of 430,000 rides were estimated to be lost. Although new figures are not available on what the current proposals will do to ridership, it is safe to assume the numbers won’t be pretty.

Crime is another bone of contention with Edmontonians who use the city’s transit. In March of 2018, 460 charges were laid against a group of teenagers who were on a crime spree in LRT stations. Last September, the stabbing of an ETS bus driver in Millwoods rattled the community. Notwithstanding the fact that violent crime is going to occur, riders would like to see the city put additional funds towards security at transportation depots.

City Government at the Crossroads

Like anything related to public policy, the City Council must find ways to compromise in the public budget, and with the provincial economy in a recession, this translates to certain public services getting the full funding they need. From the 2018 budget, the city expects $120 million from transit fares, but total expenses exceed $350 million. Between 2014 and 2016, annual ridership decreased from 89.3 million rides to 87.2 million.

Construction has begun on the first phase of the Valley LRT Line and Phase 2 funding is pending. With more lines opening up, the city hopes that ridership will increase over time. Long-term planning is what the city has its sights focused on with new ETS and LRT developments.

Uncertainty Lies Ahead

The city council has not voted on any of these proposals yet are planning to make a decision this year. With the provincial elections right around the corner this spring, it is hard to say whether they will follow through the rise in fares. If they plan to go through with it, ETS will have among the highest fare prices in Canada.

With a march around Churchill Square to get the final message out, Maxwell and I talked about what the future might hold him and the YCL: “We hope that other groups can consider joining us in this fight towards the fare hike, so the municipal government will reconsider its intentions to raise prices.”

As frustrating as politics can be, it was enlightening to see local Edmontonians speaking out for a common cause, because in the end, we all want to see our City progress for the better into the future.

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