Questioning transit and equity in the Capital Ward race

A few weeks back, the Citizen did a story about transit and how local candidates were trying to find creative ways to deal with it. It was a good piece, and the main takeaway (for me) was that it reinforces that we need to put more time, effort and imagination into planning transit…and that we have to do it within the overall framework of city-building.

It was also handy in pointing out a number of municipal candidates from various wards who were thinking about how to approach transit. It didn’t include every candidate in the city (it couldn’t), but it was a decent sampling. One candidate featured prominently was Capital Ward candidate Shawn Menard.

He has developed a plan to move the city towards free transit for all. It’s incremental and starts with reducing fares for those who are most in need. I don’t know if it’s possible to actually get to free transit (but it really might be; other jurisdictions are trying it), but just moving it closer to the amount of subsidy that driving receives would be good.

Once this story was tweeted out, candidates Tony Carricato and Jide Afolabi jumped in with their own thoughts (which is great!). But it was Carricato’s tweets, in particular, which gave me pause.

Two tweets, specifically:

and

There are two things I don’t like from these tweets. From the first one, I don’t love a candidate slagging OC Transpo management (and, really, the quick rejoinder about whether they should be trusted with taxpayer money is, why should we trust politicians?).

From the second tweet, I’m disturbed by the line, “But expecting all residents for free public transit…seems unreasonable.” In a society, the society pays for stuff. Even if you don’t use every service the city provides, that doesn’t mean those services shouldn’t be provided.

Responding to this tweet, I asked him what his thoughts were on toll roads. He didn’t reply, which is fine. He’s a busy guy right now, no doubt, and tweets can get lost. So I decided to email him. Here’s what I asked:

First, you wrote this about Menard’s idea to reduce fares/move towards free transit: “He wants to raise our taxes and let OCTranspo mgt it.”

Do you see a significant problem with OC Transpo management? Do you have a plan to change the way OCT is managed? Is there a limit to the amount of public funds that they should be allowed to manage?

Second, there was this response to Trevor Hache: “Hi Trevor! I’m all for finding common grounds on better transit affordability, especially for students & people on fixed/low income. But expecting all residents to pay for free public transit when they already pay some of the highest municipal taxes in 🇨🇦seems unreasonable.” (Emphasis mine)

There are a number of services in the City that are administered without user fees, should that change, so that all residents aren’t paying for those services (eg roads, libraries, garbage collection). Should we change how we provide such services, for example, should we institute toll roads?

To his credit, Carricato replied:

Yes, as I mentioned, I believe that providing free public transit is a policy decision that would create a huge hole in the City’s budget.  The lost revenue from fares and services would need to be covered, somehow, by passing on the cost to residents.

I do think it is possible to find common ground on better transit affordability, especially for students & people on fixed/low income. I support maintaining free use of OC Transpo for seniors on Wednesdays, free transit for children aged 5 and under, the youth pass for persons aged 13-19 as well as the U-Pass. However, expecting all residents to pay for free public transit when they already pay some of the highest municipal taxes in Canada seems unreasonable to me.

Last year, OC Transpo saw declining ridership which I suggest can be explained by their poor performance in getting people on time where they need to be, despite continued increases in fares, now making it one of the most expensive transit service in Canada. Both issues speak to the management of OC Transpo. It also seems as if OC Transpo and those who manage it have made the information more difficult to find in recent years (see reports and stats stopping in 2016, after which date one needs to sift through reports on the City registry http://www.octranspo.com/about-octranspo/reports_and_stats)

Since May, I have knocked on thousands on doors and been to many community meetings, and the resounding message I’m hearing from residents is that they are ready for change at City Hall. Many of them are concerned that their children won’t be able to afford a home in the same neighbourhood they grew up in. Many also worry about their current and/or future ability to afford to live in their homes as their property taxes are already too high for their pension to sustain.  Free transit will further increase this problem.

That’s a thorough response, so let’s take a look at it (though I’m not going touch the won’t someone think of the boomers part).

Maybe I can give him a pass on the issue of OC Transpo management…though I think the major problems with OC Transpo stem from city politicians being unwilling to properly fund transit, and that OC Transpo is often doing the best with the massive constraints placed on them…but, sure. They’re not perfect.

But I just can’t get over this issue about property taxes being really high so it’s unfair to make non-riders pay for transit.

Again, driving on our streets is free. It doesn’t matter if you don’t own a car or never ride in a car, you’re still paying for everyone else’s driving habit. We have zero road tolls, yet we expect transit fares to cover 53% of OC Transpo operating costs.

This is ridiculous. Literally. It’s deserving of ridicule.

Carricato’s position prioritizes drivers over transit users. It also prioritizes homeownership over transit. I’m willing to bet that choosing such sides means you’re tending to choose the side of those with more money over those with less money.

We don’t need this sort of inequality. We don’t need a city that pits one group against another, that serves certain interests more readily than it serves others. We shouldn’t want a city that believes certain choices–choices that are bad for our economy, our environment, our safety and our health–should be fully subsidized, while people should have to pay significant amounts if they make different decisions.

This isn’t just about transit. This is about governance. It’s about vision. And it’s about one’s political philosophy.

Does the city operate in a we’re-all-in-this-together manner? Do we support each other? Do we pay for each other’s services? Do we devote the necessary public resources to the public services that provide the most help to the city, in general, and to the people who need it the most?

Or do we concern ourselves with the amount of tax we pay and the services we–and only we–get?

If you say we can’t make everyone pay for transit, but we have to make everyone pay for driving, you’re telling me more than just your stance on transit. You’re telling me about your approach city governance.

Public transit is an unalloyed good in city life. Transit users should be treated at least as well as drivers.

One thought on “Questioning transit and equity in the Capital Ward race

  1. Pingback: Do Ottawa residents really pay more property tax? | Steps from the Canal

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