Sutcliffe now promising to freeze transit fares for all for one year

Ottawa mayoral candidate Mark Sutcliffe is now promising a one-year transit fare freeze for all OC Transpo riders, saying service must be improved before fares can go up.

Sutcliffe had previously said he would be in favour of keeping fares frozen for seniors, Equipass users and youth, but on Tuesday announced a full, system-wide fare freeze.

The pledge mirrors his main opponent, Catherine McKenney, who has also promised to freeze fares, though McKenney has also pledged to make transit free for riders 17 and under. Sutcliffe is opposed to a free transit plan, taking a shot at it in a news release Tuesday.

“The first step is to deliver reliable service, not free service,” said Sutcliffe. “We shouldn’t expect passengers to pay more without taking major steps to improve transit.”

In July, city staff estimated that eliminating OC Transpo fare increases would cost approximately $5 million and increase the transit levy by $11 annually for an average property valued at $415,000.

He also promised to create a “passenger pledge” that he said would make OC Transpo performance more transparent.

Transit staff give ridership and performance updates regularly at transit commission meetings. There were six transit commission meetings in 2022 that included regular bus, Para Transpo and O-Train service updates. Sutcliffe said his plan would make this data made public on a monthly basis. 

OC Transpo’s website only publishes peformance reports twice per year. Sutcliffe said he would ensure they were published at least quarterly. The dataset on the page also does not show any 2022 figures, though some of these indicators, such as ridership, are presented to the transit commission with more recent data. Sutcliffe said he would ensure this data is also up to date and more widely accessible.

“Residents and taxpayers have a right to understand how OC Transpo is performing on a month to month basis and, eventually, in real time,” a campaign spokesperson said.

He is also promising to optimize OC Transpo bus service to “reflect the post-COVID reality and the new travel patterns for work.” This, he said, would reduce the number of “empty articulated buses” running around the city. He also promised to consult with Para Transpo users to improve service.

OC Transpo staff and city council decided to keep transit services running at normal capacity through the COVID-19 pandemic, despite a dramatic drop in ridership, to ensure that riders who rely on the service to get to essential jobs that cannot be done from home would not be affected by deep service cuts. The transit service has operated at a steep deficit since 2020, with senior levels of government filling the gaps. In 2022, OC Transpo is projecting an $85 million deficit, largely due to lower fare revenue, if the province and the federal government do not come forward with financial aid.

The municipal election is Oct. 24. There are 14 candidates running for mayor. Two advance voting days will be held on Oct. 7 and 14 ahead of election day.

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