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Bike Share Toronto introduced discounts for low-income users. More might be on the way

Torontonians who qualify for discounted transit passes could soon also get a break when borrowing a bicycle, as the city considers more reduced Bike Share fares for people with low incomes.

Last month, Toronto Parking Authority (TPA), which oversees Bike Share Toronto, introduced the Reduced Fare Pass Program for community housing tenants. Through the program, most tenants are now eligible for $5 annual memberships.

On Tuesday, the city’s infrastructure and environment committee will consider whether to extend that same $5 pass to people already enrolled in the Fair Pass Transit Discount program, which offers low-income Torontonians discounted TTC passes. That could come into effect later this year. 

It’s all part of a new fare structure the city introduced last spring. With Bike Share use exploding in recent years, fares went up in 2023 for the first time since 2017, which the TPA said was mainly to cover the costs of the growing service. When city council adopted the new rate structure, it included amendments regarding low-income passes.

“We know that Bike Share has been growing exponentially year over year,” said Bike Share director Justin Hanna.

“Part of Toronto Parking Authority’s commitment in terms of providing this service to as many people as it can, is just making sure that income level is not a barrier.”

A closeup of a bike share rack in day time. about a dozen bikes are pictured docked.
Along with discounts for low-income Torontonians, Bike Share Toronto is trying to make it easier to access its service by putting stations in all of the city’s wards by the end of 2024. (Taylor Simmons/CBC)

Bike Share use on the rise

In November, TPA projected 2023 ridership to be 5.5 million, up 23 per cent from 2022. 

Hanna says reducing fares for people struggling with affordability won’t affect Bike Share’s four-year expansion plan, which aims to put docking stations in all 25 Toronto wards by the end of this year.

By 2025, the plan is to increase the number of stations to upwards of 1,000, while increasing the number of bikes to 10,000, including 2,000 electric bikes. Bike Share Toronto had 780 stations and 8,800 bikes as of November.

That increase is key, said Alison Stewart, director of advocacy and public policy at Cycle Toronto. She says while the cost of Bike Share can prevent some people from using the service, a lack of infrastructure is arguably more prohibitive.

“What really makes a program like Bike Share successful is it hinges on having enough stations,” she said.

“One of the reasons that Bike Share has become so successful, at least for the city core, is because it’s really easy to come across a Bike Share station.”

A young woman in a white shirt and floppy hat checks uses her phone to unlock a bike from a bike share rack on a sunny day.
In November, Bike Share Toronto reported its projected ridership for 2023 was 5.5 million. That’s a 23 per cent jump from 2022. (Michael Wilson/CBC)

Reduced memberships won’t be effective unless all neighbourhoods, especially the inner suburbs where many low-income Torontonians live, have easy access to bikes, Stewart said.

TPA is undertaking an “equity-based” investigation of the new rate structure to see how it affects users from the inner suburbs, which it says will impact Bike Share Toronto’s expansion plans.

Some discounts already available

While the city considers extending its reduced fair program, many discounts already came into effect on Dec. 4, 2023.

Community housing tenants under the affordable housing and rent-geared-to-income programs can buy the Annual 30 membership for $5. That membership, usually $105, gives users unlimited half-hour rides for a year. 

About 90 per cent of Toronto’s approximately 89,000 community housing tenants are eligible for that discount, says Fahad Yousuf, acting manager of strategic service partnerships and compliance at Toronto Community Housing Corporation.

Tenants in market rate rentals can purchase Annual 30 and Annual 45 memberships — normally $145 for unlimited 45-minute rides — with a 20 per cent discount.

The YMCA of Greater Toronto is also handing out 100 special annual memberships with discounts for electric bikes for Ontario Disability Support Program recipients.

Annual memberships can also now be paid in three instalments through the year.

TPA is also introducing a seniors fare as part of a one-year pilot program. After April 1, people over 65 years of age will be able to buy annual memberships with a 20 per cent discount.

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