Here’s how we can pay for clean, free public transit

After reading Don McLean’s comment “Make HSR Frequent and Free” (August 23), I’m sure many readers, like me, thought, “Awesome! But how could we pay for frequent, clean and free public transport service? »

Having waited at least 20 minutes for a bus the other night with nowhere to sit, I’m in the right frame of mind to explore this question: it would have been a really tough wait in bad weather!

I think the reason why we need cleaner public transit in a climate emergency is clear. Natural gas-powered buses release carbon in the form of methane into the air. It’s time to replace petrol buses with electric buses!

And why free? Before outlining some major sources of frequent, clean, and free funding to consider, let’s face some facts of inequality. Today’s transit fares are a regressive tax on the citizens of our city who need transit service the most: the poorest among us and those who can’t drive. I have to budget for my eldest’s bus pass, but that’s nothing compared to the struggles of young people who have to pay more for public transit, such as those on even tighter budgets or those who receive social assistance. I have a friend who lost count of how many job interviews he couldn’t do because too often the OT bureaucracy didn’t get him bus tickets on time.

If we agree that it’s time to join the 100 cities of the world (New York Times) that have free public transit, then we should head to the next stop, which is where to find the money to fund it?

First, there is the small package of $29 million per year from the Federal Gas Tax Transfer that could be used to green our municipal transit. Of course, general road maintenance is important for all vehicles, but why did Hamilton usually give in to his drivers rather than his transit riders, and add all that money to the road budget, which is already 100 million dollars? If the $29 million per year were reallocated to public transit, it could cover free high-speed rail fares and many improvements to get us closer to frequent, clean, and free public transit.

Secondly, if we believe that we are all in this together to protect our climate, our children’s future and promote equity, then is it not time to revisit the assessment of the zone and ask the largely motorized communities of Ancaster, Dundas and Stoney Creek to share the burden of the transit fare? What about reducing hardship for people in these communities who cannot afford cars, let alone electric cars? The benefits of affordable public transit for all, as McLean’s article points out, are legion.

Third, almost 10% of the transit budget is currently paid to Presto for its card service and the administrative costs of managing and processing payments. This money could help pay for free public transit by eliminating fees.

These are just three of the possible options among many other potential sources of significant savings to increase the HSR budget.

As a climate- and equity-conscious citizen and regular transit user, I strongly support the formation of a committee of council to examine how the City of Hamilton can make HSR frequent, clean and free. Ask your mayoral and council candidates to support this idea at www.GoVoteHamilton.ca.

Mary Love lives in Hamilton.

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