A transit fee increase was approved by Red Deer city council on Wednesday amid discussions about empty buses, subsidies and the need for more provincial support.
Red Deer’s transit fees, frozen since 2016, will go up three per cent overall. But fares will be affected differently.
Action Bus fees will not increase at all. But Red Deer College student semester passes will increase to $150 from $140.
Monthly student passes will increase to $62 from $60, and monthly bulk school passes for students will cost $56 rather than $55.
Seniors will also pay a little more —$62 for a monthly pass compared to $60.
But cash fares for students, youths and seniors will remain the same. And adults fare will actually be reduced to $2.50 from $2.55, since coming up with an extra nickel was considered cumbersome for users.
The changes will kick in in September.
Councillors generally agreed that a fee increase was needed, but differed which efficiencies could be attempted to bring costs down.
Coun. Vesna Higham expressed frustration about the “empty buses“ that can often be seen driving at night. She said this was an issue the last time she sat on council 14 years ago, and was still the second most frequent complaint from residents during the last election, after beefs about crime.
Coun. Lawrence Lee balked at the amount the city subsidizes the service, and suggested the transit department look at changing routes, making some call-on-demand night buses, and other innovative measures to avoid running empty buses.
Coun. Dianne Wyntjes cautioned that efficiencies are only good as long as the buses are still convenient enough for people to want to ride them. “We are still providing a public service.”
Mayor Tara Veer expressed frustration about an inequity in provincial government funding. Unlike mid-sized cities such as Red Deer, Edmonton and Calgary get provincial subsidies for their transit services — even though they already have a bigger tax base to draw from.