Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Free transit motion to be debated by Vancouver city councillors

with 2 comments

The headline is taken from a CBC News story and the motion will be debated tomorrow. It also provides a link to the motion as a pdf file. The motion asks Council to support the All on Board  campaign. Apparently there is going to be a “research report containing evidence” – but that is not ready yet. You might think that it would be a Good Idea to have had that ready in time for the discussion. Because there is remarkably little evidence on offer so far either in the motion’s “Whereas” section or the campaign website. Other than some people think it might be a Good Idea and other places have already tried it.

What needs to be considered is how much revenue is going to be lost from this proposal and how it might be replaced. The motion suggests that the Provincial Government will be approached for more funding. Presumably, the Province will also have to consider if this is something that needs to be applied province wide. If not, then you can expect the attention to switch to property taxes as that is about the only source that the municipalities can access. I would certainly expect that someone will actually do the necessary policy analysis, which, of course, is entirely absent so far. This would include some assessment of the costs to increase transit supply at peak periods – and also at times when young people are not in school and can be expected to be enjoying their new found freedom to ride transit as often and as far as they can go. I would also expect questions to be asked like why does this demographic get pushed to the front of the line when others – the aged, the disabled, the desperately poor adult population –  fail to get anything like such generous treatment?

I accept that for low income families even reduced fares for children can be inadequate to be affordable for many trips. At one time people who had transit passes could take their spouse and children with them at weekends for no extra charge. I forget now when that concession was withdrawn, but I would be willing to bet that cost was a concern.

It is true that giving children free rides will increase ridership – though the campaign has not made any forecast of that. Nor have they considered what other ways might also increase ridership and their comparative effectiveness. What we do know, and what is not mentioned anywhere in these materials, is how increasing service frequency and improving reliability (through traffic management measures) can offer much higher rates of return at lower levels of cost, and can be better targeted. For just as there are families that can’t afford transit, there are plenty for whom the fare is not the deterrent that inconvenience, unreliability and inadequate service undoubtedly are. Transit takes you from where you are not to a point at some distance from where you want to be. And for a lot of the trip will expect you to stand, or be crowded with others, or left at a bus stop wondering how long your wait will be. People who have invested heavily in a vehicle, and its insurance (which does not vary by distance driven) have a vested interest in getting as much use out of that expense as possible. And despite traffic congestion and the hassle of finding parking still get a better travel experience than transit riders for most trips. The car is at your convenience and takes you all the way without a transfer!

I do think that the province ought to be increasing what it spends on transit, I just think we need to be a bit more considered about how that money is spent. I also think that transit should not be considered as a social service or a redistributive device. If people are poor then giving them more money is far better than giving them scrip for approved expenditures. Free transit passes are as prescriptive as food stamps and both can be a stigma. Giving free rides to children whose parents are wealthy may not actually reduce car use all that much, if at all and is palpably wasteful.

And anyway, why are we focussed on transit and not asking why these kids are not walking more or using their bicycles? Might it be something to do with concerns about their safety?

 

Written by Stephen Rees

January 14, 2019 at 2:04 pm

2 Responses

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  1. You’re absolutely correct about the need to consider relative transit priorities, costs and relationships amongst different modes of transport. For instance, cheap bus passes for university students made a considerable dent in the case of Vancouver in cycling – to classes – by post-secondary students. High parking costs near class rooms had already reduced vehicular commuting by students.

    jeffpatterson72

    January 14, 2019 at 7:07 pm

  2. And anyway, why are we focused on transit and not asking why these kids are not walking more or using their bicycles?

    yes exactly,

    Paris did a recent study

    which finding is that “free transit doesn’t answer to any sustainable mobility objective”, quite the opposite:

    market share gain allowed by free transit is essentially done at the expense of active transportation (cycling/walking), and free transit encourage urban sprawl.

    It identifies “monthly transit pass” as a problem too (no marginal cost for trip which could be otherwise done by active transportation means) and remind the obvious: transit cost is not the determinant factor why people prefer car over transit, but quality of service is!

    That said, the city of Paris, will go forward with intermediate measures (free transit for Parisians under 11, and half price pass for high school student)…that is financed by the city itself (not by the regional transport agency, or other senior government)

    Patrick

    January 18, 2019 at 11:37 am


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