Just like public health care and public schools, I believe that free transit is a public good because we would live in a better world if everyone was healthy, educated and able to get around.
We collectively fund public health care because we see it as an important public good, but we fail to provide the means for low-income people to be able to afford to take the bus to the doctor. Many minimum-wage workers scrape together $78 every month to be able to afford to take transit to work. Meanwhile, most income assistance recipients looking to re-enter the workforce are denied funding for transit to get out and find a job or go back to school.
I believe that, as a society, it is our collective responsibility to provide people with the means to realize their full potential. So that’s why I think it’s time for our city to step up to the plate and provide free transit for all residents of Halifax.
In fact, we already have free transit. The recent implementation of the Halifax Harbour bridge shuttle, in response to the Macdonald Bridge closures, has been providing free transit across the harbour for thousands of pedestrians and cyclists. Seniors ride for free on Tuesdays, university students ride for a reduced rate throughout the school year with a U-pass, and everyone rode for free in March 2012 after the Halifax transit strike.
What’s more, the city of Halifax can afford to provide free public transit. Eliminating bus fares from all transit would only cost $35 million dollars, or just three percent of the total operating budget. This amount pales in comparison to the $55-million price tag that the city has already committed to the new convention centre.
Put in this light, the question of free public transit becomes not about finances, but about political will. Do we fund development that lines the pockets of big developers, or we do promote economic policies that puts money directly back in the hands of working people?
Free transit is a form of economic stimulus because it puts money directly back into the local economy. Low-income and working people have unmet financial needs, and that $78 a month which would have otherwise been spent on transit will instead be spent on food, rent, utilities and other basic necessities of life.
Imagine how great it would be if the ferry was free. Free public transit across the harbour would mean that more summertime tourists would visit downtown Dartmouth, and that suburban commuters would have free and environmentally sustainable transportation to work every day. Free transit would mean that unemployed people will be able to go out and look for work and that people with disabilities will be able to more actively take part in social and economic life.
The Canadians cities of St. Joseph-du-Lac, Winnipeg and Calgary all already have some form of free transit, and Moncton is currently looking at implementing a similar policy. Now it’s our turn.
Free transit is good for working people and free transit is good for Halifax.