You're a family of four, going to an event downtown. Do you:
- get on a bus which takes 40 minutes and costs $13 each way
- jump in your car, head there in 15 minutes and slap down $10 total in parking?
Transit fares are too high.
In April of 2016, the city of Edmonton released a white paper on user fees. Essentially, this was a research document outlining how and why the city charges individual users for certain services.
Just after the paper was released, I talked with Councillor Andrew Knack about the implications the report had on city services, you can listen below.
While I was reading the white paper, there was a line that made me do a double take.
It has been estimated that transit in Edmonton provides in the order of $700 million per year in benefits of reduced congestion, reduced collisions, decreased parking requirements and improved environmental impacts.
The report cites the transit budget from 2015, $120M from fares and $220M from city subsidies. That means, for every dollar the city is investing in transit we are seeing a 300% return on investment, annually.
Imagine your bank called you up and said they could guarantee you an account where every dollar you put in tripled, every year. You would think it was a scam. If you could prove it wasn't, you'd put every dollar you had into that account.
But when we talk about improving our transit service we talk about reallocating existing resources without any new investment. We increase fares with inflation, but we don't see increases in transit budgets correlated with our growing and inflating city. I think it's past time we started asking why?
There are two primary factors which determine if someone will ride transit: cost and convenience. Our transit system is uncompetitive on both fronts. Based on our citywide insistence that single-occupant car convenience is the highest priority, our bus system will never be competitive on the convenience front. Cultural inertia and public backlash prevents much of our progress.
But the only thing stopping our transit from becoming price-competitive with private car travel is our unwillingness to invest.
Many will argue that when you factor in the full cost of car ownership, transit is already cheaper. But those arguments ignore reality - that most Edmontonians already own a car. It's a sunk cost for many households. Since many Edmontonians are already spending on their vehicles if public transit is more expensive, they'll use their vehicles.
We can work on making Edmonton a city where anyone can live comfortably car-free later. Right now, let's work on making Edmonton somewhere where our other modes of transportation are at least competitive with the private car.
There are many forms this can take. We need to eliminate the cost of youth using transit, to build good habits before they're allowed to drive. We need to at the very least reduce the cost for regular adults, so the choice to use transit does not appear punitive to the regular user. And we need to accept credit cards as payment, a decade ago. Let's stop punishing our transit users for making sustainable choices.
Let's invest in transit.