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Transit trips up among seniors since Montreal introduced free fare program, city says

MONTREAL — A costly program offering free public transportation fares to Montreal seniors is paying off, the city said in a recent report as it documented a spike in transit use among people age 65 and older.

In the six months since the program launched on July 1, 2023, the city said the number of trips taken by those in the target age group surged between 15 and 20 per cent. The findings were contained in a 2025 budget planning document the city published Tuesday.

Forty-seven per cent of eligible Montreal-area residents had signed up for the program by the end of 2023, the city said.

“The measure has therefore resulted in both savings and increased mobility for seniors,” the document reads.

First announced in late 2022, the program allows residents of the Montreal agglomeration — comprised of the city of Montreal and suburbs on Montreal island — who are 65 or older to use the metro, buses, commuter and light-rail trains for free within the jurisdiction. Paratransit, or specialized rides for people with disabilities, is also free for program beneficiaries.

Montreal dedicated $24 million to the initiative in its 2023 budget and earmarked another $34.3 million to continue it in 2024. Over the same period, the city’s financially beleaguered public transit agency, the Société de transport de Montréal, has cut nearly $140 million from its own budget.

But several metro riders said Saturday that the program has myriad benefits for older adults. 

“I think that for low-income people its a way to break isolation, to get out,” Huguette Bergeron, 74, said outside of the Place-d’Armes metro station downtown.

Anne Chenot, 70, said she sees the program as “little compensation” for high local taxes.

Both women said they’re taking advantage of the offer even though they would have been able to afford the regular $97 monthly fare. They hope to see similar programs targeting residents who might benefit from the financial relief, such as students.

Robert Martin said the program’s broad eligibility criteria are likely boosting participation. A program that limits eligibility by income, he said, might create barriers for prospective participants who would have to prove their financial situation. 

Martin plans to register for the free fare when he turns 65 next March. As someone who has never owned a car, he expects the program will increase his mobility.

“Does everyone need it? I’m not sure,” he said. “But it’s easier for (the city) than just asking for proof that you’re, let’s say, poor or middle class.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 27, 2024.

Thomas MacDonald, The Canadian Press

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