Edmonton councillor wants free transit for everyone

WATCH ABOVE: Edmonton city councillor Aaron Paquette is proposing Edmonton consider making the public transit system essentially free. Vinesh Pratap explains.

Suggesting it would be a big economic driver, city councillor Aaron Paquette put forward an intention Monday, asking what it would take to provide free transit to every Edmontonian.

“This is a basic necessity for a thriving economy,” Paquette said, basing some preliminary numbers on a 2016 white paper done for city council.

“We already know that it adds $700 million to our annual economy and so why wouldn’t we look at this?

“It would almost be naive and irresponsible to not at least consider it.”

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He said he got the idea after hearing from a family of four that claims they spend $3,000 a year on transit.

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“It turns out that if we went solely with a property tax hike — which is not what I’m recommending — but if we did that, it would cost, on average, households $160 a year. And everybody gets free transit all the time.”

Part of Paquette’s research looked at studies from Europe where fare-free public transit (FFPT) was done to remove vehicles from the road to reduce emissions.

However Paquette also found Tallinn, the capital of Estonia — a city of 440,000 — did so well, the entire country is looking at providing free transit.

“One thing did they notice is, not only did they increase ridership but they also increased frequency of trips.”

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He said it’s something to consider with the Terwillegar Drive debate coming up.

“We’re looking at spending $300 million to add a lane that’s going to save people three minutes. That’s what people want and that’s probably what they’re going to get.

“But if we dedicated the lane to be BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) for example, imagine how many cars we’d get off the road and people could just get to work that fast and we wouldn’t have to spend any extra on adding a road and then maintaining that road into perpetuity.”

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WATCH: Edmonton looking into offering more free transit for kids

Paquette said the city already offers all kinds of subsidies with U-pass, Donate-a-ride and others. He also wants to explore increased revenue from advertising, as well as corporate and government partnerships.

“That’s all I’m saying: let’s consider this. Let’s take a look at it. Let’s see if the numbers add up. I think they will.

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“If they do then maybe it’s something we want to go ahead with.”

“It’s an interesting question,” Councillor Scott McKeen said. “What I’d want to know is: what are the upsides? Maybe there would be financial upsides for the business community and the city overall. I’m certainly willing to look at it.”

One of the principles of End Poverty Edmonton was to make transit free by 2021.

Councillor Bev Esslinger said that thought process helped her support the motion by Mayor Don Iveson to increase the age limit to 12 for children riding free with paid adults.

However she said she has a lot of questions about the cost implications to the city. “I think we’d love to do free for everything.”

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Paquette will formally table his request at next Tuesday’s council meeting.

A response is expected to come back 12 weeks after that, in early in 2019.

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