(Black Press files)

(Black Press files)

TransLink mulls distance-based fares, low-income discounts

Metro Vancouver transit agency launches final phase of fare review

Transit users in Metro Vancouver are getting their third opportunity to weigh in on the fare structure TransLink will introduce next spring.

The agency launched the third phase of its fare review on Monday morning.

The choices boil down to keeping the current flat fares for buses, while bringing in a kilometre-based system for SkyTrain, SeaBus and future light rail south of the Fraser River; or implementing kilometre-based fares across the board.

Either way, the three-zone system would be off the table.

READ: Zone system for transit fares under review

With the first option, about two-thirds of riders will continue to pay the same amountas now, under 20 per cent of riders will pay less, and under 30 per cent of riders will pay more.

With the second option, 20 to 30 per cent of passengers will pay about the same, and another 20 to 30 per cent will pay five to 20 per cent less.

Flat fares will stay at the current rates and the base fare for rapid transit will be set at the current one-zone price.

Under a kilometre-based system, fares will increase once trips exceed five kilometres.

Not everyone will benefit from getting rid of flat fares on the bus. Riders who travel long distances in one zone, such as throughout Vancouver or South of the Fraser, could pay more for trips more than five kilometres. That would include planned light rail in Surrey and Langley.

However, no customers will pay more than they currently do for a three-zone fare.

Andrew Devlin, TransLink’s manager of policy development, acknowledged that under a kilometre-based system, riders would have a tougher time predicting exactly how much longer trips would cost.

“There’s many ways that TransLink can provide better information for customers to make their trips more predictable,” said Devlin. Those include better station maps or mobile apps.

Devlin said the cost of a system-wide flat fare had pushed that option off the table.

“It would require a 20-per-cent price increase for about two-thirds of the trips across the region,” he said. “We just don’t think that’s a palatable option.”

SeaBus customers were especially unhappy with the current zone-based system, Devlin said. All SeaBus trips are currently two zones.

“They’re an example of a pretty short two-zone fare,” said Devlin. “SeaBus trips will be … less than they are today.”

TransLink is also weighing public response to prepaid passes versus fare capping.

Prepaid passes would be cheaper, but would require customers to pay the full cost up front.

Fare capping would have riders pay by trip but after a certain number of trips, the rest of the trips in that fare period would be free. However, each trip would be more expensive.

Devlin said the fare changes would simply “hold the line” on TransLink revenue and are not intended to increase how much cash is brought in.

The agency is also mulling reduced fares for low-income riders and seeing if customers would be open to a five-to-10-per-cent increase across the board to subsidize a 20-per-cent discount for low-income riders.

Devlin said the first three phases of the fare review have cost $1.5 million to date, but that no final estimate is available for the implementation of a new fare structure.

TransLink will bring out a draft proposal in mid-2018. Results from phase three will be available in the spring.

Customers can fill out the survey online before Dec. 8.


@katslepian

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