OC Transpo seeks $21M more in 2022 budget, expects $60M from province

·3 min read
OC Transpo has created its budget with a caveat it will hit 82 per cent of pre-pandemic ridership by the end of 2022. (Andrew Lee/CBC - image credit)
OC Transpo has created its budget with a caveat it will hit 82 per cent of pre-pandemic ridership by the end of 2022. (Andrew Lee/CBC - image credit)

OC Transpo is asking for an additional $20.9 million next year in its draft budget tabled Wednesday, but the transit department's fiscal plan is based on several significant assumptions.

First, the net operating budget of $372.3 million is predicated on ridership levels reaching 82 per cent of pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2022.

Last year, transit staff developed the 2021 budget based on 70 per cent ridership, which then-general manager John Manconi characterized as "conservative." In fact, the ridership this year was less than half that for most of the year, but reached 45 per cent by the end of September.

City officials also assume the province will pick up $60.9 million in COVID-19 costs.

Although OC Transpo is making about $11 million in reductions to some services — and it's assuming a steadily increasing ridership in the following months — the transit department still forecasts a $41.3 million shortfall in fares. It's expecting $7.7 million less in provincial gas tax transfers because people are simply buying less gas, while OC Transpo expect to spend $11.6 million for "enhanced cleaning" and personal protective equipment next year.

Wendy Stephanson, the city's chief financial officer, said she knows "the number is big" but all indications — through conversations with upper levels of government, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Big City Mayors' Caucus — is that cities will get a multi-year deal to cover ongoing COVID-19 challenges.

If ridership doesn't rebound as hoped, or the province doesn't pony up all of the $60.6 million for COVID-19-related issues, OC Transpo will have to look for cuts elsewhere. That could include service cuts.

Coun. Allan Hubley, who chairs the transit commission, said it's difficult for OC Transpo to figure out the year ahead when there's no word yet on when — or whether — federal public servants will return to work.

"The reality is … we need to hear from the federal government what they're going to do with their workers," Hubley told reporters. "That's the biggest piece of our future planning."

The city also plans to spend $645,000 on a marketing campaign to entice customers to return to transit.

City of Ottawa
City of Ottawa

Fares to increase in January

We may get to ride transit for free in December, but expect fares to go up in the new year.

The draft budget calls for an average fare increase of 2.5 per cent. That means an adult monthly pass will go up $3 to $125.50 and a single fare will inch up a dime to $3.70.

The increases in fares is expected to bring in an additional $5.4 million.

Not everyone will see their fares go up. The prices for the Community Pass for Ontario Disability Support Program recipients and the EquiPass for low-income riders will remain frozen. And there's a plan, introduced at the transit commission meeting Tuesday by Coun. Catherine McKenney, to provide weekly and monthly transit passes to homeless shelters for their clients.

The city is still moving ahead with its plan to buy 450 electric buses over the next five years, with help from the federal government. The 2022 budget includes $55 million for the project. New transit GM Renée Amilcar said she expects an announcement before the end of the year on whether the city qualified for a federal grant.

Members of the public can make delegations on the transit budget at the next transit commission meeting on Nov. 17.

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