The Star (Toronto Canada) - opinion piece: Big ideas, 19 February 2014
Public transit free of charge: Ken Fisher’s Big Idea
OPINION: Ken Fisher has a great idea about infrastructure/transit: Making public transit free will improve traffic, help low-income residents and eliminate fare-collecting costs
Issue: Infrastructure/Transit: How to make it easier to get around Toronto
What’s the big idea: What if public transit in Toronto was free? “Big Ideas” are always met by naysayers with “It can’t be done.” However it has been done and is being done. The city of Hasselt in Belgium is but one example. Transit fares were abolished in 1997 and ridership was more than 10 times higher by 2006.
How will the big idea work: Benefits: Faster boarding and exiting; low-income people are the primary benefactors; road traffic is greatly reduced benefiting drivers as well; air and noise pollution are reduced; fare-collecting costs eliminated.
How much will your big idea cost, and how would it be funded: Zero-fare public transport is misleading. Huge costs are involved. Capitalism has many faults but it works better than other forms of society because it encourages enterprise and personal initiative. The “nanny” government fails precisely because it takes away initiative. However “freebies” that benefit the lowest strata of society and do not encourage idleness can be positive forces in bringing more people into the middle class. Libraries, parks and public schools are examples of positive freebies. Transportation to and from work is a necessity, and is essential to the employer. Consequently some portion of the financing of public transportation should fall to employers, especially those who benefit most due to their location vis-à-vis the transit lines. However the greatest cost must be shared by the three levels of government: municipal, provincial and federal.
How will you implement your big idea: Alas, the wheels of change move slowly and in the area of public transportation the initiative must come from politicians. Free public TTC benefits so many people (both riders and non-riders) that the concept is readily accepted. The painful question is who will pay the piper? It can definitely be done. It simply requires the resolve to make major changes in distributing the fruits of our labour.