With still a week to go before city councillors vote on the 2007 budget, it seems a large number have already come out squarely against a fare increase for Guelph Transit riders. For that we're glad.
Guelph Transit riders went for a long time paying less than $2 per trip, a price riders in many other municipalities had already had thrust upon them. When the increase was finally introduced in 2004, up from $1.85, there was a backlash, not surprisingly so. On one budget night, at least one person said the fare increase would hit those on low incomes, and would be devastating to poor families. This argument has merit. Many Guelph Transit riders use the system out of sheer necessity, whether it be to get to work or school, because they don't have a car and can't afford one.
Last time around the fare increase was expected to bring the city an extra $445,000. This time around the estimate is about $300,000. There is no question some of the improvements Guelph Transit is proposing in the 2007 budget will do wonders to boost the system and help with ridership. There's a new route proposed for the Arkell/Clair/Victoria roads area and we're especially pleased that officials are asking for council approval to operate on statutory holidays, when service for those who need it that has been sorely lacking. Many of the new initiatives, however, are covered by gas tax revenue and while these are improvements, it's hard to imagine asking people to pay more when they are still forced to wait 30 minutes for a bus.
But it is easy to see the other side of the argument. While many of those who use Guelph Transit are on fixed incomes, the same can be said for the transit service itself, and money is needed to make improvements and increase ridership. If residents do indeed want better service, they'd better be willing to pay for it, some might say. Instead of a fare hike this year, the city should look at removing other programs entirely -- the termite initiative for example, as this responsibility should fall to homeowners -- to fund transit improvements.
For now, riders should still be able to get on the bus for $2, a fair rate, we believe, for our community. If there is to be further improvement in service, and we hope there will be as soon as next year, then it's worth revisiting the situation.