If you follow me on Twitter (@sallycthomas1) you’ll know I have a lot of strong opinions…on a lot of things. This is different. I honestly cannot imagine a transit system that is totally free for anyone. Furthermore, I struggle to think of myself as different or more privileged than my fellow transit user, but I do feel that I am spending an awful lot of money on a service clearly not designed with me or others like me, in mind. The latest developments with the LRT demonstrate that I am, in fact, not the only one the city has let down.
Spending your whole life working to earn what others take for granted is counterintuitive to having something handed to you. As the name implies, Free Transit Ottawa is an advocacy group working really hard to make transit free….and they are starting with folks experiencing poverty, on Ontario Works (OW) or Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). For the uninitiated, they’re provincial social assistance programs for people who need support to afford some of the necessities of life. When I heard that, my initial reaction was a resounding “No, I don’t want that.” In my mind, what’s free is typically not worth having anyway. I want my transit to work for me and am willing to pay for it.
Fast forward a couple days and a few conversations and I think I could be convinced. My initial trepidation, as I said, was (and still is) the service level and lack of accountability if I am not paying for it, what can I expect, right? Public transit is a public service and not a business. It should be run that way! That means that no matter who is paying what to use it, it behooves the city to ensure its efficacy. I know this has been brought up before; but what if every tax payer were to pay a little more tax so that we could fix the many ailments our transit system suffers from? I think most people would be okay with that. Transit is a need in every city! If all levels of government stepped up, it’s quite feasible that OC Transpo wouldn’t need our fares to run the service.
Some people on social media have raised concerns that people on OW or ODSP would lose transit benefits if transit were free and thus, they would be worse off.
At the time I write this, I don’t have much information on Ontario Works, but as an ODSP recipient, I found out from my worker that not having that transit expense would not affect a person’s income after all, since transit is not paid for outright to start with. ODSP gives people a certain amount to cover their monthly costs (including the discounted pass) and other than some exceptions, it’s up to the individual how they choose to budget their money. Urban Transit Area fares are covered IF you know to ask! I wonder if that would continue. My worker didn’t know.
In short, if government at all levels play their respective roles, I do think free transit can be more than just a dream. First the City needs to do everything possible to ensure an equitable and accountable system for all of us! Again, I look forward to the day when Transit Commission members recognize that ALL aspects of transit are important to attain true equity!