Recently, the Lethbridge city council debated reducing public transit service during off-peak times because of low ridership during the pandemic.
One rationalization for the recommendation brought to them by city administration is that because ridership is so low, fare revenue is down.
See, this is the problem with how this city—and, to be fair, plenty of other cities—view public transit. They think it should be revenue generating.
They don’t see it as a public service.
No one, for example, would ever recommend that we charge admission rates on all city parks as a way to cover the cost of park maintenance. Because we see city parks as a public service.
No one would ever recommend that we charge tolls on all city roads as a way to cover the cost of street sweeping, snow removal, and repairs. Because we see city roads as a public service.
No one would ever recommend charging victims of a house fire as a way to cover the cost of the fire department coming out to save their house. Because we see the fire department as a public service.
And so on.
Yet for some reason, we have this idea that transit can’t also be a truly public service. We think it has to be a cost recovery service.
And so when there’s a discrepancy between revenues and expenses, we increase fares, reduce service, or both. But then we complain that ridership is too low.
Reducing services or raising fares are not ways to increase transit ridership.
Transit, like visiting one’s family doctor, should be free to the end user. Punishing transit users by demanding that they pay to use a public service is unfair, especially when, for some people, it’s their only transportation option.