Edmonton organizers launch petition for free transit

Jun 16 2020, 2:52 pm

An Edmonton-based group of organizers have launched a campaign aimed at making transit permanently free in Edmonton.

Free Transit Edmonton, a group of climate organizers including educators, workers, students and community organizers, is advocating for the expansion of the public transit system and the removal of user fares in Edmonton.

Although fares were suspended temporarily during the COVID-19 pandemic, Edmonton Transit Service resumed the collection of fares on June 15, a move the group says is the “wrong direction for the city to take.”

“The move to make transit fare free was one step toward understanding the vital importance that public transit plays in our overall public health,” organizer Vargas Alba said in a news release.

“Now, to see the return of fares while we’re still navigating a local health emergency can only be seen as irresponsible — and on top of it all, the city is resorting back to user fees without having done any financial analysis on how it will impact the city budget.”

In addition, the group says that free transit isn’t just about the financial costs, but about justice.

“Transit is about justice — racial, social, economic, labour, and climate justice,” says the group’s website.

“Fares disincentivize transit use, resulting in lower transit ridership, and disproportionately burden low-income households that don’t own a car and rely on transit for mobility. Fares also present an immediate barrier to mobility for those who do not have secure and safe housing or access to a living wage.

The group says that free transit is a Canada-wide issue, and that steps should be taken to make transit “fare free forever.”

“Research shows that access to reliable and efficient public transportation provides greater accessibility to employment, increased social inclusion, improved education levels, quality of life, and improved health.”

City of Edmonton Communications Advisor Rowan Anderson says the Transit Fare Policy was approved by City Council in November 2019, and later updated to reflect “the principle of affordability”

“As part of that process, research and analysis was completed and shared with Council to explore different ridership scenarios, including a fare-free scenario. A fare-free option was not selected at that time,” said Anderson in a statement to Daily Hive.

“Fare revenues help offset the operational cost of running transit service and keep the tax rate lower by requiring less funding from the tax levy.”

Andreson added that ETS supports low-income Edmontonians with several programs, including the low-income transit pass program, Ride Transit, as well as the PATH program for those experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness.

The group’s petition for free transit currently has 278 signatures.