Transit is, appropriately enough, a moving target. In last week’s column, I wrote of OC Transpo’s proposal to hike fares by an average of 7.5 per cent, with particularly steep increases for seniors and students, and ask city hall for a 12.7 per cent budget increase.
These numbers were current at the time I wrote them, but by the time you read them the transit committee had already voted to ease the fare increase to 3.5 per cent, while jacking up the budget 16 per cent. Sorry about that.
Of course, these decisions move the city even further away from its goal of covering 50 to 55 per cent of OC Transpo’s costs with fares, but laudably abandon attempts to balance the budget on the backs of those who can least afford it.
They also elicited a curious complaint from Ottawa Citizen columnist Randall Denley: “This council has long looked on OC Transpo as a social service, not a business.”
And well they might. If public transit was a business, we could dispense with the ‘public’ part entirely. OC Transpo would be there to make money, and getting people where they want to go (as profitably as possible) would just be the means to that end.
That is not, however, the case. OC Transpo is a municipal service which charges a user fee, but it is no more a business than the public library or the police department.
As OC Transpo states on its website, “Its mandate is to deliver safe, reliable and courteous service at a reasonable cost to all residents. Increased transit use contributes to the quality of life in the city by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, traffic congestion and the requirement for more roads.”
Making a buck just isn’t the name of the game here, and neither is pitting one part of the city against another.
Coun. Jan Harder, in her Barrhaven This Week column, writes, “I will remind you that every taxpayer in this city pays at least 50 per cent of all transit costs through your taxes even though less than 25 per cent of you Barrhavenites use the services of OC Transpo.”
We could get into a debate on whether suburbs receive more services overall than they pay for, but it’s also true that taking the OC Transpo downtown from Barrhaven can be a long, cold wait for a bus with space onboard.
Harder’s suggestion that her constituents somehow have less of a stake in good public transit, though, is hardly likely to help matters. There’s only one public.