Ottawa Bluesfest warns transit fee could cost festival charities

Blues in the Schools, Be in the Band and a year-round music school could be axed if the city makes Bluesfest pay for transit, festival executive director Mark Monahan warned Thursday.

OC Transpo wants the two-week music festival to pay $200,000 a year to offset the costs of providing extra buses, staff and overtime to get festival-goers home from LeBreton Flats every night.

Passing the cost to ticketholders – about $0.66 per ticket based on 2015’s 300,000-person attendance – would give festival-goers free transit to the event.

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But Mr. Monahan said that “significant increase” couldn’t be done in such a “price-sensitive market.”

Instead, the money would have to come from the festival’s operations, and its charitable budget may be first on the chopping block, Mr. Monahan said.

“These are all things that don’t necessarily generate revenue for us, and I think that’s one of the things that organizations look at when they start to look at cutting,” he said.

The Blues in the Schools program reaches 5,000 students in 20 schools every year. Be In the Band so far has created about 250 local teen bands since the program began in 2009, Mr. Monahan said.

According to an email survey sent to Bluesfest subscribers, about 40 per cent of attendees take transit to the event, and 70 per cent of those pay cash. That’s all money in the bank for OC Transpo, Mr. Monahan argued, and should offset the $350,000 cost of providing extra buses.

But OC Transpo general manager John Manconi said it’s time to stop subsidizing a multimillion-dollar festival when the transit service is also trying to help low-income residents access affordable transportation.

“We want (Bluesfest) to have a great transit service but we have to be equitable about it,” Mr. Manconi said.

Transit commission chairman Coun. Stephen Blais put it more bluntly.

“It’s not clear to me that Kanye West and Iggy Azalea need a subsidy to play in Ottawa,” he said.

OC Transpo is also working out a deal with the Canadian Tire Centre. The transit service faces an $11.5-million deficit.

This article originally appeared on on Dec. 3.

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