Transit Should Be Free

Except for those in a few benighted countries, we expect good roads, a good education for our children and good health care to be a public service paid for out of our taxes; why not public transit? Most transit systems are subsidized, but why aren't they free? Compared to what is invested in supporting the automobile, the cost would be negligible. In the US over 80% of the money spent on transportation supports the automobile. That does not even include the externalities; pollution from cars damages our health; public servants like cops and firemen are dealing with accidents and occasionally arresting speeders. What if they took those subsidies and used them for a massive investment in building good public transit all over North America? What if it was good, fast and free? Would people use it?

Dave Olsen of the Tyee has written a series of articles asking these questions, while studying two communities with free transit. He gives seventeen good reasons why transit should be free; some are specific to British Columbia but most are universal: 1.

a barrier-free transportation option to every member of the community (no more worries about exact change, expiring transfers, or embarrassment about how to pay)

eliminating a "toll" from a mode of transportation that we as a society want to be used (transit is often the only way of getting around that charges a toll)

reducing the inequity between the subsidies given to private motorized vehicle users and public transport users

reducing, and in some cases eliminating, the need for private motorized vehicle parking

reducing greenhouse gas emissions, other air pollutants, noise pollution (especially with electric trolleys), and run-off of toxic chemicals into fresh water supplies and ocean environments

reducing overall consumption of oil and gasoline

eliminating the perceived need to spend billions on roads and highways (now up to $7 billion for the proposed Gateway Project in Vancouver)

eliminating the perceived need to spend billions on bigger car-carrying ferries ($2.5 billion for BC Ferries' new super-sized boats and ramps)

contributing significantly to the local economy by keeping our money in our communities

reducing litter (in Vancouver, the newer transfers/receipts have overtaken fast food packaging for most common garbage found on our streets)

saving trees by eliminating the need to print transfers and tickets

allowing all bus doors to be used to load passengers, making service faster and more efficient

allowing operators (drivers) to focus on driving safely

giving operators more time to answer questions

providing operators a safer work environment since fare disputes are eliminated

eliminating fare evasion and the criminalization of transit-using citizens

fostering more public pride in shared, community resources

read the series in ::the Tyee