A 33 per cent increase in single bus fares is justified and well overdue, according to municipal staff and council.
The last time that the Whistler and Valley Express (WAVE) changed fares was in 1997, and in that case average fares actually went down with the introduction of new passes.
The last actual increase was in 1995, although the service has more than tripled in that time, from seven buses to 25. Other factors, including fuel prices, labour costs and inflation were also a factor in the decision to raise fares once again, with operating costs nearly doubling from $2.63 per kilometre in 1991 to $4.46 in 2007. There are also plans to expand the system slightly in 2008.
Effective on June 1, adult single fares will increase from $1.50 to $2, and youth and senior fares from $1.25 to $1.50. The route to staff housing will also be increased to $2.
Pass prices are also going up slightly — a one day WAVE card is now $5 or $3.75 for students or seniors, a seven-ride card is $20/$15, a 10-ride card is $15/$12.50 for students and seniors, a 20-ride card is $29/$24, a 30-day card is $55/$38.50, a six-month card is $280/$198 and a 12-month card is $480/$335. The five-ride pass was eliminated.
According to Emma DalSanto, traffic demand management coordinator for the municipality, the $2 rate is still among the lowest cash fares in the country. And while a rate increase was necessary to help cover costs the increases were deliberately kept lower for frequent users.
For example, the 30-day pass went up just $5 from $50, an increase of 10 per cent, while the regular fare of $2 represents a 33 per cent increase.
The longer a pass is good for, the greater the discount — the 12-month pass increased by just $30, a difference of just over six per cent.
“The thought behind (the increase) was to reward our longer term passengers by offering better discounts,” said DalSanto. “We did raise the cards, but not by much. The best practice guidelines for fares in Canada, for example, is that the cost of a monthly pass would be 30 times the cost of a cash fare, so this is actually below that. For a 10-ride pass the best practice is to give 10 rides for the price of nine, which in this case would be $18 but we’ve kept the increase to $15.
According to DalSanto, the introduction of the six-month and 12-month passes last November — as well as new federal laws that let you deduct bus passes at tax time — also made the increase possible.
The six-month pass actually costs $46 a month, but with the federal credit it’s just $39.67 per month. The 12-month pass is $40 per month, but with the federal tax credit it’s $34, said DalSanto. “Basically, because we have these new, very affordable options available was another good reason why it seemed reasonable to do the fare adjustment right now. For residents it’s never been cheaper to ride the bus.”
In the long term Dal Santo says it’s possible that fares could be reduced again or eliminated altogether, if plans to introduce pay parking come into effect.
WAVE was able to freeze its fares for 13 years because the service boasts the highest ridership numbers in the province and recovered the most money from fare boxes. The municipality and B.C. Transit jointly cover the costs of operating the system, with money from fare boxes going to the municipality.
The fare box increase is expected to generate an additional $221,000 from June to December 2008, going towards increased operating costs and small expansions to the system.