The city of Ottawa raised the bus fare yesterday - up 25 cents to $3.00. A group of angry transit-users, called the Under Pressure Collective, claims this gives Ottawa the highest bus fare in Canada. They took to the streets in protest yesterday morning and walked in the bus lane from Vanier to City Hall, snarling up rush hour traffic. I was still in bed when I heard about their protest, but if I'd known about it I would have been out there marching with them.
Raising bus fares is not the answer to traffic congestion and pollution - problems the city claims they are tackling. This hike will discourage people from taking public transport and punishes those who already do.
Often when I ride the bus I am struck by how people around me are those with the least amount of political power : immigrants, seniors, students and working poor. Sure, at rush hour the downtown buses have their share of suits and office workers - but get on just about any bus at 11 in the morning and tell me honestly if the riders look like they can afford another increase in their daily expenses. And this increase follows only 5 months after the last - marking a 10% jump in 2005.
The city claims that it has to raise fares to off-set fuel costs. Understandable. But I think bus fares should be subsidized by public coffers and if the city needs to raise funds, they shouldn't do so on the backs of those who can least afford it.
Why not target those who insist on commuting to work in single-occupancy cars? - which seems like the majority of the city's working population. Incentives should be given to take public transport to work, instead of the other way around.
Currently I take the bus downtown when I work a lunch shift at the restaurant. But parking in the little lot right by the restaurant would cost $6.00. Same as 2 bus fares. As winter sinks in, it's going to be increasingly tempting to drive in to work and avoid the cold wait for buses that always run late.
To make it more, not less attractive to use public transport there could be partnerships made with schools, universities and businesses to get discounts for bus use. In Sherbrooke, Quebec, students can ride local buses for free when they show their student id. A similar initiative in Vancouver saw a 13% ridership increase in UBC students. Or how about raising downtown parking rates? Making more bus lanes? Building more park-n-ride lots in the suburbs?...
But in the end, it comes down to changing people's attitudes and habits. Equiterre, a Quebec environmental group, has some good sustainable transport campaigns - but I can't help wondering if the people they attract are those who already share similar views. How can you make someone care about something they don't? I wish I knew. And I'm sure everyone who campaigns - whatever the issue: AIDS, poverty, cancer, MS, etc. - would love to know the answer too.
But while we ponder that one, I'm going to write a letter to Alex Cullen, the city councillor for my ward. I don't know if my squeak of protest will mean much - but I think if everyone in Ottawa who is concerned about this would write to their councillors, perhaps the city might reconsider who they treat the transit riders they claim to want to attract.
You can find your city councillor on the city web page... or add a comment to this blog if you want another way to voice your concerns.