Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

No Such Thing as a Free Ride? Well, Maybe There Is...

I am a huge advocate of public transit. Most of my life, in fact, has been lived in communities with fabulous public transit systems. I rode the bus all through high school, during university, and when I moved to Toronto I rode streetcars, buses, and subways on a daily basis. Public transit was fast, and it made sense in an urban centre, especially if you were travelling into or around the downtown core. One of the many facets of the current city centre revitalization plan in Fort McMurray is a strengthened public transit plan, designed to further our goals as a sustainable urban centre, and I am truly pleased to see this plan – but one thing could make it better. What is even better than fast, convenient, accessible public transit? Make it free.
Yep, I used the “F” word. Free public transit is not a new idea, but I think it is an idea that may finally be achievable, and sensible. I encountered it on Twitter recently when someone posted a link to a blog that advocates for free public transit, and I found an entire world of people who believe public transit should be free. And while some might think this absurd I think the rationale behind it is very, very sound.

Currently our transit system charges $1.25 per passenger – and you would be hard pressed to prove to me that this is any way an adequate amount to cover the true costs of the system. This nominal fee likely does very little to even touch the costs of gas, maintenance, etc – so why are we charging it all? If the benefits of free public transit outweigh the costs why not explore this option?
Here are the benefits as I see them:
1)      Alignment with the new vision for the community, especially the focus on urban development
2)      A commitment to sustainability
3)      Reduced numbers of cars on the roads mean less costs for road maintenance
4)      Reduced emissions
5)      Increased public transit usage
We are doing some fascinating things in this community, like our zero waste initiative. We are pursuing LEED gold standards in our new building projects, and we are working towards being a shining example to the world on sustainability, creativity, innovation, and commitment to community. And here is another chance for us to be a national and even world, leader – free public transit. From my research there appears to be NO Canadian communities that offer free public transit, and only a handful of American ones. The places that do offer free transit, city wide and not just in the central core? Places like Hasselt, Belgium, Hunan, China, and Templin, Germany. This isn’t just an idea that will benefit us locally, as while it will this has the potential for a far wider impact – becoming a world leader in community-wide free public transit, available to all.

Perhaps some will question the budgetary wisdom of free public transit, and wonder if we can afford to do this. My question is: can we afford not to? In a community where we find such pride in our leadership abilities, and where we seize opportunity and potential, the possibilities are endless. We pursue goals and achievements that others may consider unattainable, and we approach new ideas with a can-do attitude that defies critics and naysayers.
I recognize the concept of completely free public transit, community-wide, is bold. If there is one part of this community that makes me proudest, though, it is our boldness, and our willingness to entertain new ideas and concepts that others might be too stuck in the past, or timid, to contemplate. And this is why I am an advocate for free public transit in Fort McMurray – because we are not afraid to lead, and this is truly an opportunity to show the entire world our bold, fearless, and progressive leadership as we embark on a free ride into the future.



  1. If we consider public transit as a part of the infrastructure, then this is not difficult to grasp.

    We don't charge tolls for use of roads or highways...where does the money come from to build, and then maintain and repair, our roads?

    That same source can reallocate for transit and expect to see a reduction in the funds that must be allocated to repair; the more accessible public transit is, the less need to drive and put additional wear and tear on the roads.

    More public transit also means more walking; a little more exercise is healthier, reducing health care costs and non-productivity resulting from employee absence.

    Studies show that urban living is healthier than suburban living and the most glaring difference between the two is the suburban car dependence vs. urban modal choice.

    Public transit, then, is an investment that generates a return for a society - economy, health, environment...

  2. there will be free public transit in the downtown core!

    1. I realize this is part of the new public transit plan - this is my humble request to think even bolder and make it free city wide :)

  3. I agree that free city wide would be really good.

  4. Awesome Concept...had never heard of the idea!

  5. On the face of it your suggestion sounds like a good idea. However,I think it is important to consider the unintended consequences.

    It could allow certain category of criminal (B&E) easier access to areas that they might not otherwise be unacceptable, due to distance or geographical barriers.

    I am not suggesting that keeping the marginalized penned in the downtown section of town is an ideal solution. However, I do think we should consider the consequences of giving the criminal element of that group, free transportation to the far reaches of the community.

    It will certainly further stretch police resources.

    Free access to all will also likely lead to an increase in crime (assaults, harassment and public drunkenness)on transit buses. This could lead some current riders, to abandon public transit, for the safety and convenience of a personal vehicle.

    The current fee is probably only a nominal amount, when the entire cost is considered. But, even a token fee is enough to keep the "riff raff" from spoiling transit for the law abiding ridership.

    Please Note - I am not implying that all people who cannot afford the transit fee, are "riff raff".

    1. I'm guessing you read a lot of Freakonomics type books? ;) Seriously though I doubt that the current $1.25 fare is preventing criminals intent on B&E from accessing their preferred areas. I don't quite see how making the fares free would instantly increase crime statistics, and I have not read any such correlation from those places that have instituted free public transit. I suspect it would be an extremely minor consequence, if it occurred at all.