The London Transit Commission will receive a 5.6 per cent increase in funding from the City of London in 2009, a reversal of its previous pledge to cap the commission’s increase to 3.5 per cent.
LTC general manager Larry Ducharme explained why even the 5.6 per cent increase may not be enough to cover its expenses.
“The issue at hand is whether the future increases we may receive will allow us to sustain our current plans to improve our quality of service and develop new routes,” Ducharme said.
“We are asking for a gradual increase through 2012 to increase the city’s percentage of the LTC’s budget from its current portion of 37 per cent, to about 40 per cent,” he added.
The budgetary increase is coupled with the imposition of an eight per cent fare hike on passengers last December and a potential eight per cent fee increase on the Western bus pass should it be retained following the upcoming referendum in March.
Ducharme explained students may not see improvement in service despite the potential fare increases.
“Students will not see any direct improvement in service from the hike, but rather [the area surrounding Western] will fit into the model of continuing to improve the existing services offered by the LTC,” he said.
The Amalgamated Transit Union local 741, which represents transit operators, was pleased with the increased portion of London’s budget allocated to the LTC.
“Anytime you increase transit funding, it’s a good thing,” ATU local 741 president Pat Hunniford said. He expects an additional three operators may be hired related to this years budget increase.
Ward 12 London city councillor and LTC commissioner Harold Usher encouraged the LTC to improve how the organization conveys itself to the public.
“We need to let City Council and Londoners know how important transit is to this city, as an essential service for all Londoners,” Usher said.
“Further budgetary increases will help the LTC improve and sustain its current routes, while planning for the future, such as the Bus Rapid Transit, which we hope will show Londoners the efficiency of bus transportation,” he added.
Usher explained the BRT system will provide bus service between major destinations, including Western, Fanshawe College and most major malls, allowing passengers to move around the city quicker than the LTC’s traditional routes.
Another issue for the LTC has been the fluctuating price of gasoline over the past few years. While decreasing prices have assisted the LTC, the increased prices of 2008 left it with an $800,000 shortfall between gasoline costs and increased fare revenues.
“While ridership increased by 1.5 per cent [last year] due to the increased price of gas, the [recent] decrease in prices has contributed to a decrease in riders as they have gone back to driving,” Ducharme said.
“Therefore the decrease in price has not helped our bottom line and the issue is a double edge sword,” he added.
Ducharme explained most Ontario transit systems receive nearly 50 per cent of their budgets from their respective cities and he hopes that London will soon follow the same model. `
Undergraduate students will have the opportunity to decide the fate of Western’s bus pass program in an upcoming referendum, taking place from March 11 to 13. For more information about the Western bus pass and the upcoming referendum, please visit www.westernbuspass.ca.