We were were happy to have a table at this weekend’s Horizon Fest event. One of our members, Richard Fidler, was the first to speak. His remarks are below in full:
Free Transit Ottawa is a community group advocating for affordable, reliable,
accessible and low-carbon public transit in Ottawa.
As our name indicates, we want transit to be treated as an essential public service
like so many other services financed out of public revenues: such as basic
healthcare, schools, libraries, sewers, sidewalks, roads, parks, fire fighting, and so
This means working to make transit free of user fees, and funded collectively by
taxpayers, that is residents and businesses, who also collectively reap the benefits.
Fare-free transit is a model that is already adopted in some cities internationally,
and that has recently started to gain substantial consideration in North America.
Ottawa is no exception; it is being debated in the media and in city council
It’s not hard to see why. Think climate change. We are told by the experts that the
planet’s carbon emissions must be reduced by 45% within the next seven years.
Transportation accounts for about 40% of our carbon emissions. We urgently need
to shift from a fossil-fueled car-centered system to one centered on public transit.
This means re-imagining how we move and how we build our community. It
means thinking about alternatives to the cost and persistence of maintaining and
expanding roads and highways, and doing so in ways that promote social equity,
the environment, and public health. As well as road safety.
Private passenger cars cost owners between $6,000 and $13,000 per car, per year.
Electric cars not only cost more, they are no solution, as the reduction in emissions
from their use is offset by the gross environmental damage involved, for example,
in the production of batteries. (This is not to deny the value in a rapid transition to
electrification of public transit and local delivery trucks, of course.)
Between 20 and 40 percent of us don’t drive because of age, income or disability.
Newcomers and women who commute to work rely more heavily on public
transit. By eliminating the need to own a car, public transit can allow people living
on lower incomes to direct more of their earnings to essentials – food, clothing,
We obviously need a huge increase in spending on transit by governments at all
levels. But even within municipal budget constraints, much can be improved.
Mayor Jim Watson and two of the candidates to succeed him in this fall’s election
are scare-mongering with the claim that free transit would increase property taxes
by up to 13% or more. But that assumes no change in existing budget priorities.
For example, why not eliminate the funds allocated to wasteful road-widening
projects? And why not increase Ottawa’s unusually low parking rates and the
Uber and Lyft surcharges paid in lieu of accessibility services? Or raise
development charges on new single-family dwellings? And what about the
savings from not having to collect or enforce fares?
We estimate that with these changes alone, the city could offset the tax increase
required to replace OC Transpo’s fare revenue by at least $80 million. This amount
itself would be enough to fund — as a first step — major improvements to the
transit system, without increasing property taxes.
As well, it would cover the cost of providing free transit for Ontario Works and
Ontario Disability Support Program recipients, who pay the highest proportion
of income to use transit. On our table here we have a draft letter to Mayor Watson
and City Council in solidarity with 64 local organizations asking for elimination of
transit fares for Ottawa ODSP and OW beneficiaries. We urge you to sign it.
When it comes to urban transit, the problem is our priorities, not finances. We
can’t afford four more years of the same: rising emissions, soaring cost of living,
and no action on either. We urge you to join us in Free Transit Ottawa in pursuing
real meaningful change, and to help build public pressure on the incoming Council
for the needed change in course.