Free Transit Is Not Free: BENN




Two themes emerge from the article in The Bulldog The Argument In Favour Of Free Transit.

1. Public transit is expensive to operate. The discussion is not about why. It is about who should pay. Should it be all of the users of the service; just those who earn above a to be determined but arbitrary income level; a government; or some combination of the three. Note that when a government pays, it is just a variant of the those who earn above a level categories. In this case some of those who are paying are not users of the service.

2. The benefits of public transit are viewed primarily through the lens of those who are at the lower end of the income spectrum. Essentially, the writer is expressing the opinion that those who are most financially vulnerable should not have to pay for the service. Rather those who can afford to pay should be responsible for all of the payments (fares vs. government taxes).

“Free” is not free. It is just free to some, with the total cost being borne by others. The question of transit fares is just a subset of a larger societal issue regarding sources and uses of funds. I have no problem with the concept of the “rich” subsidizing the “poor”. The devil is always in the details.

What is the generally accepted definition of “rich”? The cynic in me says that it someone who has more than me (i.e. so I don’t have to pay), while the definition of “poor” includes me, so that I can receive the benefits. And therein the problem lies.

Ron Benn, a finance executive, has been a member of the Centrepointe Community Association for the better part of three decades.


The Argument In Favour Of Free Transit

LRT East Gets First Test To Montreal Station

AG’s Lansdowne Audit: ‘Could’ Means ‘Won’t’

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5 Responses

  1. Bruce says:

    Ron As usual well put. I do not believe in a socialist Canada but am willing to offer reduced fares for those who NEED help vs those who want a free ride for all they can get.
    Many years ago the province of British Columbia or perhaps Vancouver city itself, brought in a system of checks and balances. If you were drawing social assistance you did not need a drivers permit nor a vehicle as they were considered a luxury and free bus transit was given.
    In Ottawa I have witnessed people cashing their welfare benefits at the LCBO while their kids went hungry. Point being that many abuse the system while you and I pay for their indulgences.

  2. Jake Morrison says:

    I’m one of those who thinks that good transit should be a public service because it benefits the whole city, not just the riders, by getting some cars off the streets. This little series in the Bulldog has made me realize that, as an equity issue, it also balances the use of the free roads, that we have no problem paying for, that otherwise only directly benefit those who can afford cars.

  3. Ken Gray says:


    That’s an interesting argument.

    cheers and thx


  4. Ron Benn says:

    Jake, I agree with the general tenor of your comment. A functioning public transit system can contribute to reducing the number of personal use vehicles on the roads. Fewer personal use vehicles leads to less air pollution, less ambient noise, less congestion. All admirable goals to pursue. As an aside, what constitutes a functioning public service could be a topic for a Master’s thesis.

    However, I think we need to look more closely at the final segment of your last sentence in which you state that the use of the free roads only directly benefit those who can afford cars.

    The indirect benefits of roads should not be glossed over. Buses use those roads. As do the big 18 wheelers that bring food to the grocery stores, and inventory to other retailers. Two and five ton trucks and full size vans are used to make more deliveries. Factor in the delivery of goods ordered on line. Consider the service vehicles, from organizations that provide basic services to homes and businesses (Hydro Ottawa, Bell/Rogers). City vehicles used to service/repair key infrastructure such as water mains, sanitary and storm sewer lines. Let’s not forget the cyclists and pedestrians. The list is actually very long. Yes, I agree that these vehicles are indirectly benefiting the residents, businesses and organizations of our city, but just because the benefit is indirect does not mean that isn’t a meaningful benefit. And those indirect benefits are enjoyed not just by the “rich”, but also by the “poor”, and everyone in between.

    Roads are a vital element of the infrastructure around and through which our society operates. To dismiss them as only for the direct benefit of those who can afford cars is not a fair assessment.

  5. sisco farraro says:

    Free roads? I’m pretty sure we all pay for road repairs through our municipal taxes and am more or less certain this cost is also partially funded through our provincial and the federal tax dollars. Ron’s discussion reminds me of a talk we had with our son when he was young – “there is no such thing as a free kitten”. Kittens require a bed in which to sleep, a window in which to sit, a scratching post, food on a daily basis, annual trips to the vet as well as annual shots, spaying/neutering, periodic emergency visits to the vet, collars, toys, catnip, a cat box, cat litter, a cat litter scoop, etc, etc. None of these items are free. The residual costs of free anything are usually somewhere just short of (slightly) astronomical.

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