Public transit is often one of the most emotional and contentious issues of any area of public policy. It is a heavily subsidized service with huge capital and operating costs and elected officials are constantly trying to justify it. I am a supporter of public transit! It needs to be fast, convenient, simple, reliable, efficient, affordable and integrated with other modes of transportation.
- Let’s start with the economics of transit.
- At first glance they seem very poor. St. Albert runs at a cost recovery of ~38%. We heavily subsidize our transit, around 8 million/year. What is missing in this figure is the economic advantages gained by public transit. From an infrastructure point of view the more people who ride the bus, the less traffic congestion on the roadways which leads to a decrease in the need to build expensive new roads, repairing current ones and providing swaths of parking which are huge savings directly to the municipality.
- Another consideration is the importance of public transit to a competitive economy, business attraction and labour mobility. It is critical for St. Albert to be able to attract and support non-residential development and to do this we require transit.
- Commuting on transit will reduce personal transportation monetary costs. It is estimated that traveling using public transit is one-third to one-half as expensive as commuting by car (CUTA/ACTU 2010a), and the resulting
costs equate to more disposable income available to citizens.
- Environmental. There is little argument that moving masses of people in public transit is helpful to the reduction of greenhouse gases and improves our air quality.
- Social – An intangible but extremely important factor to consider is the need for public transit. The residents in our community who are mobility challenged or who cannot drive for various reasons need the transportation option of public transit to live and work in our city.
All these factors need to be considered when making decisions regarding expansion of transit, improvement of transit or regionalization of transit. Ultimately as the use of public transit grows the cost recovery improves and the benefits, rather than the cost become the conversation.
Recently St. Albert City council approved a Memorandum of Understanding with the City of Edmonton to enter into further discussion to for a Regional Transit Service Commission under the MGA to deliver commuter transit between our two cities. Another example of how positive relationships in our region are improving the lives of St. Albert residents. I would like to thank Mayor Don Iveson, Councillors Michael Walters and Dave Loken who joined myself, Councilor Brodhead and Mayor Crouse at the tables to hammer out this positive first step to seamless transit in our region.
A leader should not be asking the question: “Why should we pay for it?” Instead, I ask the question: “What will happen if we don’t?”