FACE TO FACE: Here's a crazy idea: free transit. Would that work?
Like a true socialist, my colleague opposite is always on the lookout for a free ride. This time, he wants one in the most literal sense: He actually wants all public transit to be free.
There are so many things wrong with this idea that I don't know where to begin.
First, it's important to note that Lower Mainland transit users are already heavily subsidized - to the tune of more than $350 million a year.
In 2011, transit revenues were approximately $446 million and expenses were $818 million.
My colleague essentially wants to delete that $446 million from TransLink's books. Where's that shortfall going to come from?
Property taxes in the region are already too high and drivers are burdened with high gas and parking taxes. Shouldn't transit riders have to pay their fair share?
I certainly understand the intent of offering free transit: to get more people out of their cars and on to buses. It's a goal I generally agree with.
But the reason most of us in the Tri-Cities don't take the bus or SkyTrain has nothing to do with money; it's because transit is so darn inconvenient. If I take public transit to my office in Vancouver, I have to take a bus, a SkyTrain and then another bus. The buses are uncomfortable and often crowded, and would add an extra hour to my commute every day.
If you make transit free, the only new riders you might get are Metro Vancouver's poor and downtrodden, so buses and SkyTrains would become mobile homeless shelters.
My colleague also forgets the old adage that you get what you pay for.
Just like the NDP's boneheaded tuition freeze of the 1990s, a free transit system would choke funding from an already underfunded bus and train infrastructure.
A widely used transit system in Metro Vancouver will always be a difficult proposition, at best. We have a relatively sparse population spread over a very large distance.
More SkyTrain routes, more buses and more options such the West Coast Express are all good ideas for getting folks out of their cars.
But not for free.
Andy Radia is a Coquitlam resident and political columnist who writes for Yahoo! Canada News and Vancouver View Magazine. He has been politically active in the Tri-Cities, having been involved with election campaigns at all three levels of government, including running for Coquitlam city council in 2005.