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Transit-cheat crackdown nets tax break for Greater Victoria property owners

Mar 07 2012

A crackdown on transit fare cheats in Greater Victoria in the past year could give property owners in the region a tax break in 2012-13.

B.C. Transit has proposed a tax-rate freeze for property owners thanks to an unexpected increase of $1.4 million in passenger revenues, which were originally expected to come in at about $35.5 million for 2011-12.

The crackdown on riders reusing bus transfers accounted for about half of the total revenue increase.

“This has been a revenue windfall,” said Manuel Achadinha, president and CEO of B.C. Transit. “In the end, the benefits will go to property owners.”

Homeowners paid on average about $120 in transit taxes in 2011-12 after a hike that averaged about $28 per household, B.C. Transit said.

The other half of the $1.4-million revenue boost comes from higher-than-expected gas-tax revenue and higher rates for long-term fare sales, including monthly passes and the U-pass for post-secondary students.

Putting an end to free rides was in important decision, said Achadinha.

Transit used to stamp transfers with a randomly selected letter in order to identify them for a specific day. Riders started to collect transfers and would reuse them once they identified the day’s letter.

The problem expanded when people posted the letters on Facebook and Twitter. Transit started putting dates on tickets and cut the time allowed for transfers to 60 minutes from 90 minutes.

Transit officials had originally expected to recover about $250,000 from the crackdown on transfers.

In its budget, B.C. Transit wants to restore about 7,000 hours of bus service cancelled last year. If approved, more buses could run during peak times on popular routes, such as the No. 4, No. 39 and No. 21, said Meribeth Burton, spokeswoman for B.C. Transit.

Recommendations will be considered by the transit commission after the provincial government appoints additional members.

Just three members remained after the Nov. 19 municipal election — Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin, Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard and Saanich Coun. Susan Brice.

New appointees were expected by the end of February, but Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom has yet to make an announcement.

dspalding@timescolonist.com

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