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Your Ride: Edmonton

Jay Smith is a writer who cycles, walks and runs on Edmonton's streets and pathways.

Increasing transit fares isn't fair to Edmonton's needy

On the folly of making public transit unaffordable to the marginalized, to new Canadians and the working poor.

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We’ve had just over a week to admire our new prime minister-designate’s hair and biceps (when he’s shirtless and boxing and showing off his tasteful tattoo). But for those who are not in awe of his physical presence, there are his campaign promises.
During the campaign, Justin Trudeau proposed a whole new world: resuscitating the CBC, legalizing pot, amending Bill C-51, reinstating the long-form census, electoral reform, more refugees. And then there was the pledge to quadruple funding to cities for transit.

In September, Trudeau met with Mayor Don Iveson, when he said glorious things like, “Municipalities, who are responsible for the lion’s share of public transit in Canada, are doing the best they can. But with limited resources, they can only do so much.” And: “A growing city needs good … transit to keep people moving, to keep growing, and to stay competitive.”

Oh, campaign promises.

Unsurprisingly, both Iveson and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi (and mayors across the country) want to see these campaign promises kept.

Speaking at the University of Alberta’s Hurtig Lecture last Tuesday, both Iveson and Nenshi talked of the importance of municipalities and well-funded infrastructure.

Cities don’t get a large share of tax revenues — Iveson pointed out it’s only six to eight per cent — but they can play a big role in the expression of broader social values.
Most Canadians care about preventing climate change, Iveson pointed out during the lecture. While the federal government controls broader environmental policies, cities can have a huge role reducing our reliance on cars.

But it was another instance of one hand not knowing what the other is doing.

The next day, transit officials in Edmonton — who, to be fair, certainly can’t create their budgets on the basis of the campaign promises — proposed raising a bus ticket to $3.50 (for an adult) within two years, from its current $3.20.

This is absurd. $3.50 cents for a ride, for anyone six or older — or $97 a month if you’re buying an adult pass — is a heckuva lot. In comparison, a ticket to ride Toronto’s far more functional system costs $3. It’s also free for kids under 12. Teens and senior citizens pay only $2.

Certainly, Edmonton residents who commute to downtown jobs using LRT, who weigh the cost of their (perhaps subsidized) transit passes against parking fees, will grin and bear it.

But what about the folly of making public transit unaffordable to the marginalized, to new Canadians and the working poor? The cost of public transit limits the movements of those who can’t afford a car. It will only do that more after the price increases.
Coun. Andrew Knack pointed out it doesn’t make much sense to be proposing fare increases when the entire transit department is under review.

And when we have a mayor who wants liveable and just cities, and now a prime minister is saying the same thing — maybe it’s time for civic infrastructure to get the message?

Jay Smith is a writer who has cycled, walked and run on Edmonton’s streets and pathways her entire life.

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