If only we saw transit as a public service

If only we saw transit as a public service

The reason there aren’t tolls on most roads is that most people consider roads to be a public good. And indeed they are. The public uses them to go places. Get stuff delivered. Have emergency vehicles reach those in need. 

We don’t make every single person pay a small fee every single time they use a road. That’d be stupid, cumbersome, annoying and grossly unfair. Some people have to use roads a lot for their work, such as personal support workers going from home to home looking after frail seniors for barely above minimum wage. Charging them $20 a day to go to work would be … unthinkable. 

In progressive countries, governments massively invest in public transit, for similar reasons. It’s a public service that benefits everyone including those who can least afford to pay for it. But in Canada, apparently, we don’t believe in that

I mean, we kind of say we do, and we throw in just enough to annoy small-c conservative men in the suburbs who get their daily infusion of rage sitting in traffic for hours every day. But nowhere near enough to make a difference. 

We’re basically half-assing it, and as with everything half-assed, it fails to work. 

Transit in most Canadian cities is unreliable, not nearly frequent enough, grimy and expensive. In Ottawa where I live, a monthly pass is over $120. For students? Nearly $95 a month. 

For students. 

If at least service was stellar. But our light rail works only some of the time and the bus schedule leaves a hell of a lot to be desired. 

I don’t mean this as a knock on those who drive the proletarian chariot. It’s not their fault there aren’t nearly enough of them to have decent frequency on important routes. 

What’s decent frequency? I’m so glad you asked. 

Decent frequency is not having to look at the timetable before heading out. It’s having buses or trains be so frequent that it does not matter one bit when you get to the stop. You don’t need to think about it, because even if you just missed the bus, there’ll be another one in less than five minutes. 

To have that kind of transit service in a city like Ottawa would probably cost three times what it’s costing now. Maybe more, I don’t know. Many hundreds of millions of dollars more. 

Can’t afford it, because we’re spending most of our dough on roads instead. We don’t even blink at spending over $100 million to widen three measly kilometres of one lousy road in Barrhaven. Or nearly $100 million widening a tiny bit of the Queensway in order to not reduce congestion at all. It’s public money spent on roads, and we don't mind that. 

Spending enough on the public service that transit actually is? Apparently we can’t do that. Instead we spend just a little more than nothing. We have buses every now and them and light rail when the weather is perfect. It makes nobody happy. 

People who rely on transit pay a fortune for mediocre service and people who drive are stuck in the kind of traffic that can only be reduced by proper transit. If that’s not lose-lose, I don’t know what is.