In 2018, the STO launched the province’s first social pricing program, ECHO. It allows low-income people to pay the same discounted rates as students, a monthly pass of $64 instead of $98. In this first year, no less than 1856 people took advantage of the program. “We saw that it really answered a real need,” says Myriam Nadeau, president of the STO. Almost two-thirds (63%) of participants are social assistance recipients. The carrier also wanted to contribute to the integration of immigrants by opening it up to newcomers, who accounted for just over one-quarter (28%) of participants. Finally, 9% of program participants are workers earning less than the low-income cut-off,
Profile of the clients of the ECHO program
Average age: 41 years
Children per household: 2.1
Paratransit clients 11%
Increase in displacements
The STO has seen a marked increase in travel by holders of the ECHO title. Indeed, nearly three quarters of the users were already regular users of public transport. While they made 148,000 trips in 2017, they made 196,000 last year. Note that this increase of 32% is greater than the 15% increase observed for all users of the STO network. “This data is extremely telling,” says Myriam Nadeau.
Travel by providers before and after the introduction of the program
Out of isolation
The STO data also show that one-quarter (26%) of the holders of the ECHO title did not use public transportation before. These have made almost 94,000 trips in 2018, an average of 195 each. “We tend to believe that these people were moving less, as the low-income cutoff was set at $17,050 for a single person. It helps counter the isolation, “says M me Nadeau.
Interestingly, the data collected by the STO show that ECHO users are more likely to use public transit outside of peak hours. They also made more trips on weekends: 18% of their trips took place on Saturdays and Sundays, compared with 7% for regular users. In short, their arrival did not overflow the Gatineau buses, contributing instead to fill them during the busy periods of the day. “Where the program really has an added value is that it has allowed people to be on the network at times when we have residual capacity,” says Myriam Nadeau.
Period of use of public transport
ECHO / Ordinary
Dawn 2% / 2%
Peak hour AM 22% / 35%
Day 35% / 19%
Peak hour PM 25% / 34%
Evening 13% / 8%
Night 3% / 2%
Low cost measurement
The STO calculates that the rate has cost it less than $ 100,000 for its first year. By offering a reduced rate, the Gatineau carrier lost $ 68,000 in revenue. The human resources bill to process the requests was $ 30,000. “It was a certain administrative burden, but we were able to manage it because we had the help of the community groups that accompanied the applicants,” says Myriam Nadeau. The STO hopes, however, to have the support of Quebec. To simplify its efforts to validate whether a person is eligible, she would like the tax return to be used. She would also like to raise the low income threshold to increase the number of eligible people and offer a higher rate reduction.
Montreal’s interest welcome
The STO said it welcomed the Montreal region’s interest in social pricing, while the Montreal Metropolitan Community wants to implement it in the short term. “We need allies for the future,” says Myriam Nadeau. The carrier believes that seeing other transportation companies adopt social pricing will encourage Quebec to support the initiative. Above all, the STO considers that its first year has demonstrated the effectiveness of this measure. “We are no longer in the abstract, we have lived,” says Myriam Nadeau.