Council overhauls City transit fares and categories

Herald file photo. Prince Albert City Hall.

For the first time in several years, Prince Albert’s bus fares are going up.

City Council voted 7-2 in favour of increasing bus fares across almost all categories, while also raising the age at which residents can no long ride the bus for free, and the age at which they qualify for a seniors pass. The changes will come into effect in September, but must be approved at a regular council meeting first.

During a presentation at Monday’s executive committee meeting, City of Prince Albert Transit Manager Evan Hastings said the city will still have the lowest transit fares in the province even with the increase. Mayor Greg Dionne said that was one of the main reasons he voted in favour of the increase, but added that council should have reviewed transit fares yearly so the increases were smaller.

“We’ve got to get away from not raising fares or looking at fares every year at the end of the year,” Dionne told council. “You look at ’19, all the way back to that, we know how the price of fuel and cost of labour has gone, so partly sometimes when we’ve got to take these bigger hikes it’s our fault because we delay the inevitable. But even with the new rates and fares, we’re still going to be the lowest in the province, so I can’t argue with that.”

The biggest change is to regular adult monthly passes, which will increase from $70 to $80. Other changes see the daily fare increased from $2.25 for seniors and $2.50 for all other paying customers. The fare is now set at $3 for everyone.

During his presentation, Hastings said the daily fare change would make it easier on drivers.

“We currently use cash boxes, and it’s very difficult for a bus driver to know when a senior comes on the bus and then a child and then an adult, who pays what, right, because it switches every time,” he told council. “At $3, it makes it consistent for everybody.”

Changes for university students include the creation of a new semester pass similar to what is available in Regina and Saskatoon. Students will now be able to purchase a four month pass for $225. Student previously were able to pay $45 for a monthly pass, but that will increase to $65/month in September.

Council also voted to terminate the letter of understanding (LOU) with the Prince Albert Catholic School Division and Saskatchewan Rivers School Division that saw the City sell discounted bus passes to the divisions, which they in turn sold to students at a second discounted rate.

The new system will see school divisions charged $12 more for their discounted bus passes, although Hastings said the divisions can continue to sell them at $20 to students if they choose.

As part of the new fare system, residents will now need to be 65 to qualify for a seniors pass. Previously they only needed to be 60. Youth who are under the age of 10 will also be able to ride the bus for free starting in September. Previously, the option was only available to youth under the age of 6. Hastings said the latter change was made in hopes of getting more families to ride the bus.

Council narrowly defeated an amendment from Coun. Terra Lennox-Zepp that would have seen regular monthly passes increased to $75 instead of the proposed $80. Lennox-Zepp said she wanted no increase at all, but proposed $75 instead of $80 as a compromise.

Couns. Charlene Miller, Dennis Ogrodnick, and Tony Head joined Lennox-Zepp in voting in favour of the amendment.

After the amendment failed, Ogrodnick and Head both voted in favour of the original motion while Miller and Lennox-Zepp voted against.

“The people who take the bus in our city take the bus because they need to,” Lennox-Zepp said. “They are often working low-paid jobs. They need to use the service, and they aspire to own a car…. People that I talk to will say, ‘I don’t have a car yet, but if I keep working hard in the City of Prince Albert, I will own a car.’”

Coun. Blake Edwards was the most vocal councillor who voted in favour of the fare increase. He said the City has been hit hard by cost increases and needs to save money where it can.

“We need to care about all the people in the City because we’re all paying for these services,” Edwards said.

“I care about people too,” he added. “Here we are, we had an $80 rate, (we) throw out $75, I’m going to vote against it. People can think how they want to think (and say) ‘oh, councillor Edwards doesn’t care about people.’ I care about people. We need to move forward with the $80 recommendation…. It’s a fare rate at $80 in comparison to every other city that’s compared, we’re still the lowest.”