Quite frankly, I’m scandalized. I was hoping that, at last, I’d written my last column about the damn transit strike. Then the city goes and cuts back the incentives OC Transpo had planned to compensate disenfranchised passengers.
I’m specifically annoyed by the revised incentives for transit pass holders. Until Tuesday last week, OC Transpo’s website stated December pass holders were entitled to free transit until the end of March. Now we’re being asked to pay a significant portion (40 per cent) of the regular charge.
Obviously, at $32.40, we’re not talking a life-changing amount of money. But it’s gobsmacking that in the current climate the transit authorities have gone back on a promise. I’m a transit pass holder, and, taking the website at face value, spent the money I was due to save on an extra nice Valentine’s weekend in the country. This U-turn smacks of indecision and incompetence, and is likely to rile passengers.
Council, rather than OC Transpo management, took the decision to revise the incentives. In a 12-hour debate, divisions echoed those in the behind-closed-doors meetings during the strike. A rural-urban divide has plagued council since amalgamation, making for some tense and tedious transit negotiations, particularly on the key issue of how to proceed with the transit master plan. Urban councillors, such as Capital Ward’s Clive Doucet, tend to favour plowing money into transit. Those representing suburban areas, including Barrhaven’s Jan Harder, are more cautious. Harder was among the councillors who argued against free transit for pass holders in March.
I’m not for the privatization of transit services — it has proved a disaster in my native England. And, of course, elected officials should decide major transit issues, such as the expansion of light rail. But with the fare incentives, councillors have voted on partisan and political lines. The politicization of this issue concerning the day-to-day running of OC Transpo has caused confusion just at the wrong time. It’s extremely unhealthy.
Gatineau’s STO is run by a transit committee operating at arm’s-length from the city government.
Compared to OC Transpo, it has remained comparatively free of controversy in recent years. Harry Gow, founding president of advocacy group Transport 2000 Canada, is a prominent voice calling for the establishment of a similar body in Ottawa. Councillors wouldn’t like their powers being stripped away.
But rather than de-amalgamation, as advocated by Doucet, it could help us move beyond the petty transit squabbles that characterize council’s rural-urban divide.