City of Edmonton pursuing discounted transit fee for smart card users as cash fare set to increase in May

Currently sitting at $3.50, the single-trip cash fare is scheduled to spike to $3.75 in May and again to $4 in 2022

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Transit users may soon be able to get a discount by switching to the impending smart card system for single trips as the cash fare is set to increase by twenty-five cents in May.

The City of Edmonton is recommending the addition of a discounted flat-rate fee of $3 when smart fare comes online. Smart fare will allow riders to pay for their trips electronically and tap on and off the transit system with a card.

If approved by council, the new fee will provide an alternative to the planned cash fare increases in the next two years. Currently sitting at $3.50, the single-trip cash fare is scheduled to spike to $3.75 in May and again to $4 in 2022 unless council directs otherwise this month.

In a report headed to council’s executive committee April 12, city officials said the addition of smart fare technology allows them to provide an incentive for frequent transit users. Users will no longer need to purchase a monthly transit pass ahead of time as smart fare payments per month will be capped at the current pass rates.

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“Fare capping will benefit frequent transit users and customers would no longer have to prepay a lump sum to receive the transit discounts associated with a monthly pass,” the report said. “The flat rate and cap reinforces the fare policy principle that ensures discounts for those who use transit regularly. The fixed rate fare is set below the level of cash fares to encourage use of the smart fare system and to recognize the additional administrative costs of handling and securing cash.”

Ward 4 Coun. Aaron Paquette said the discounted fare is a good incentive, but he doesn’t think raising the cash fare is needed to promote the smart fare system.

Edmonton city Coun. Aaron Paquette.
Edmonton city Coun. Aaron Paquette. Photo by Larry Wong /Postmedia, file

With ridership on the system having plateaued since 2014, Paquette said increasing fares for those who pay by cash will only drive more people away.

“We have discounted passes for people who need them, but we don’t offer discounted fares. So if you don’t know the system or you lost your pass, you’re faced with paying a cash fare and who that impacts the most are the people with the least amount of money,” he said.

“If we don’t have a system that works for them, that is affordable, then we don’t have a system that is actually providing the service that people need.”

Paquette has asked the city for fare product statistics over the past two years to get a better understanding of how many people currently pay by cash for single trips. But that report has yet to be made publicly available by the city. He said he will be fighting to prevent the cash fare increases from coming into effect.

“It’s frustrating because to me, transit is either treated as a burden or a political tool,” he said. “We’ve got this system just sitting there being treated almost like a problem rather than a solution.”

In order to keep the cash fare the same, the city said it would need to make up an estimated $870,000 of projected revenues in the 2022 budget.

The city was unable to provide an updated timeline on the implementation of the smart fare system. Installation of the technology was delayed last summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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