London Transit: Tracking system coming, fare hike stalled

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London transit users are hitting the jackpot.

A long-desired tracking system — one that can text riders when something is amiss on their route — is in the works, just as a fare increase is delayed for the second year in a row.

Londoners want to be able to follow buses, in real-time, from their smartphones. They soon will be able to do it and they won’t even have to pay any more for the system.

At its meeting on Wednesday evening, the London Transit Commission (LTC) decided to push back a fare hike — already bumped from 2016 to 2017 — at least another year.

It’s just not worth losing any riders.

“There are a number of things that could impact our ridership, and what we don’t want to do is put a fare increase in on top of that,” transit boss Kelly Paleczny said in an interview, pointing to new passes for low income riders and the eliminated senior discount.

The decision is a win-win for riders: prices stay the same and they’ll be able to access real-time bus tracking through the LTC website, even getting text messages or emails for hiccups like a route change.

“They don’t want to find out their bus is on detour when they get to the stop. They’d like to know about it before they head out in the morning,” Paleczny said.

The $280,000 cost of the new communications system, which also includes back-end upgrades to help LTC operators and dispatchers, is covered by federal transit funding and the provincial gas tax.

It was scheduled to be ready by the end of 2017, but staff said Wednesday that early 2018 is more realistic.

The transit commission will circle back to the fare increase then, too. Before hiking prices, the commission wants to craft a strategy on growing ridership.

Vice-chair Dean Sheppard said he was excited to see LTC turn its attention to that task now that some of the service issues are resolved.

“We’ve always been on the tantalizing edge of being able to do that,” he said. “I’m really glad we’re able to put off (the increase) for a year.”

Delaying the fare increase might leave LTC with a shortfall this year, but Paleczny said the commission would be able to cover that from its reserves.

And bumping the scheduled 2016 increase to 2018 – when a second fare hike was scheduled – shouldn’t leave riders facing a twofold jump in the price of their passes next year.

“I wouldn’t say it has to be double the increase because we’ve waited,” Paleczny said, adding there may not even be a need to change fares.

There could be opportunities for new initiatives that would bring in more cash for LTC, like family and festival bus passes or a new program to target older riders, she added.

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