Family transit fares don’t make sense

St. Laurent’s Alan DeSousa wants the STM to introduce “family” fares, which would supposedly give group discounts if a household buys multiple transit passes. He says his borough offers family prices for leisure activities, and we need to get more cars off the road.

DeSousa isn’t specific about what he means by family fares. It could be discounts (or tax rebates) when buying monthly passes, or it could be discounts when travelling as a group.

Here’s the thing with the latter option:

  • Leisure activities tend to be done as families, because families spend their leisure time together. Public transit tends to be the opposite: Everyone headed in different directions at different times. How often do you board a bus with two or more members of your immediate family at the same time?
  • Even the most fervent public transit supporters will concede that family activities will almost always require use of a car, if only to transport all the food, diapers and other supplies they need to take with them.
  • How do you enforce such a thing? I’ve gone to Ottawa and travelled on their “family” fare with a female friend, pretending she was my wife. The drivers there don’t care, it’s not like they’re going to ask for a marriage certificate. So it really comes down to a group discount, usually for two adults and up to two or three children. And why should group discounts be limited to families?
  • Families travelling together is hardly the most pressing need environmentally. In fact, environmental policies encourage carpooling. What we need to get off the roads are people who drive alone to work during rush-hour, not the family carload heading to the amusement park.

The other option (giving families discounts for buying monthly passes) has its own problems:

  • We already get a federal tax break for buying transit passes.
  • Once again: Why is this treated differently from any other form of group discount? Certainly others, like offering a discount for someone who buys a transit pass for 12 consecutive months, would be more popular and more successful.
  • It increases paperwork, which benefits accountants and civil servants more than it does anyone else. This is especially true if families have to prove relationships before they can get the discount.
  • Unless more people start buying passes as a result, this would decrease revenue for the STM, requiring either more cash from the city, reduced services or higher fares for everyone else.
  • There’s no direct link between number of people in a household and ability to pay for public transit. There are plenty of poor people without families (indeed, for many of them that tends to be why they’re poor in the first place), and plenty of rich people with families (where mommy and daddy both have their cars and drive them to work, coming up with some flimsy excuse why they can’t take public transit).

It’s a gimmick, and I doubt it’s going to do anything to help public transit. Instead, more buses, lower fares and more investment in things like reserved bus lanes will bring people out of their cars. It’s boring, but it works.

2 thoughts on “Family transit fares don’t make sense

  1. Edna

    My family often takes public transit together. Back in the day when we actually had a car, we’d do the math: Is it cheaper to pay $13 for parking or for all of us to take the metro both ways? And luckily our child is good at math.

    There are also, I might add, hundreds on hundreds of families who, like us, do not have a car.

  2. Denis Canuel

    I agree with you, it should be cheaper (if not almost free) to use public transportation. It’s funny because we don’t mind investing in fixing potholes but I wonder if anyone calculated the real cost of lowering the fare. There would be less cars and perhaps less potholes..? Maybe the city would save in the end?

    Back to your story, even when I go downtown with my family, I end up paying about 6-7 dollars (for round trip). I have a monthly pass but my wife and my older kid don’t. I know for sure that it doesn’t cost me 7$ of gas to go downtown and I always park in areas where parking is free.

    It’s a pain to take the subway with a stroller and 2 kids – trust me. So while I take the metro everyday for work (and I don’t mind paying 65$ for the pass), it’s another story for family trips and we rarely – if ever take the metro. It would have to be REALLY cheap for us to consider family trips in metro and I fear that there would be too much abuse if they were to introduce some discount.

    then again, as much as people complain, 65$ is rather cheap compared to a car payment, insurance, gas, repair, parking, winter tires and all the taxes.


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