A Better Bus Surcharge

Recently, the city (and OC Transpo) have been talking about charging fees to local festivals merely for the act of existing. It started with Bluesfest. OC Transpo didn’t want to run extra buses if Bluesfest wasn’t going to pony up some cash. (I wrote, generally, about the subject here.) It didn’t matter to Transpo whether or not Bluesfest attendees represented increased demand for transit, thus creating a need for added buses (nor did they explain the difference between increased revenue of these extra runs vs. the cost); it was basically a desperate attempt to weasel some cash out of one of the city’s most popular events.

(This weaseling made necessary by consistent underfunding and undercutting of our transit system by city council.)

In the end, Bluesfest and Transpo came to an agreement. Bluesfest will pay some money, OC Transpo will get some free publicity from the event and attendees will get “free” transit to and from the festival. (It’s not really free. The cost will, eventually at least, be passed on to ticket-buyers.)

It took all that just to get OC Transpo to do what it’s supposed to do, provide sufficient bus service in Ottawa.

(Again, not really OC Transpo’s fault. They’re getting screwed by the city and by the province.)

So with one rack of antlers up on the wall, it was about time for OC Transpo to go after another festival. Bluesfest was the big game, but there are lots of rabbits and squirrels to hunt, too. Enter Asian Fest.

Asian Fest isn’t Bluesfest. It’s not a money-making gambit. It’s not particularly big. And it doesn’t even sell tickets. Last year, about 6500 people popped over to Lansdowne Park to enjoy it

But this year, ain’t no fun if Transpo don’t get some.

OC Transpo decided that it wasn’t going to run any additional buses along Bank Street for Asian Fest unless they coughed up $18 000—a sizable chunk of their overall costs and funds.

(Again, there’s been no explanation by OC Transpo as to the increased demand for service, nor the delta between the revenue and cost of the service.)

There’s a lot to unpack here. Of the top of my head, here are the problems I see:

  • The city isn’t properly funding transit, so we can’t get necessary transit service without gouging event organizers;
  • As many have said, we’re punishing people who are adding some extra fun to our city;
  • Lansdowne should never have been the car-dominated development it has become;
  • The city should be doing everything they can to deter driving to special events at Lansdowne;
  • Hell, the city should be doing everything they can to deter driving to Lansdowne, period;
  • Bank Street (especially south of Somerset) is incredibly poorly-served by transit…especially on weekends;
  • (Guess when special events tend to happen);
  • The city, OC Transpo and Lansdowne are not on the same page.

Okay, so there are some issues (feel free to add your own!), but I’m not totally worried about all the problems right now; I’m more interested in solutions. So here’s mine:

We need a special surcharge to help fund transit in order to provide proper service for special events…we just don’t need to charge either the event, attendees or transit users.

We need to charge drivers…more importantly, we need to charge parkers…specifically, we need to target illegal parkers.

Whenever there is a special event in a dense urban area, let’s start restricting parking. Further, let’s start enforcing existing parking restrictions, even if we don’t have added restrictions. Everyone illegally parked within the general area of the event (so for Lansdowne, that’d mean throughout the Glebe and Old Ottawa South), gets ticketed (which does not happen on your standard event day or weekend). Double the fine and give that added revenue to OC Transpo.*

(I’d say give it all to Transpo, but we might need to cover the costs of bylaw officers.)

Here’s the beauty of it: we’ll finally start deterring people from driving to these events that can’t support parking (in areas where we don’t want parking of that magnitude of parking). This should have the effect of encouraging transit use, so OC Transpo gets both some additional revenue and additional ridership.

There’s the added bonus of a bit of justice. People selfishly driving to these sorts of events place a very high burden on other residents. Most of them really should be taking the bus, so all we’re doing is re-balancing the incentives and making our central areas a little bit better for everyone.

*Similarly, we could add an extra surcharge for street parking and any city parking lots, with added revenue going to OC Transpo. However, that might be more difficult to achieve, politically. It should be easier to only put this added charge on those parking illegally.**

**It should be easier, but council and the mayor seem quite reticent to ever make drivers pay the cost of their choices.

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