Halifax regional council debated Tuesday whether free transit would encourage more people to vote in elections.
Last fall, regional council requested a staff report on the possibility of providing free public transit on municipal, provincial and federal election days.
Based on staff recommendations, a motion to not provide free transit on election days was brought to the floor.
That motion passed 14-3.
Against the motion was District 9 Coun. Shawn Cleary. While he also agreed it was not practical to offer free transit for provincial and federal elections, he proposed an alternative motion proposing that the municipality consider a pilot project for the 2020 municipal election on Oct. 17.
“Why would we not even try?” Cleary said to council members.
“For something which is a fundamental for our democracy, I think this is a low-cost way and this is a pilot. If there is an effect, great. If we find no difference, then at least we’ve tried.”
Cleary says based on staff estimates, the pilot project would cost about $10,000.
“If we tell people get out and vote that’s one thing, but if we had a large campaign that says, ‘Hey, not only do we want you to get out and vote, we’re going to let you ride transit for free to vote,’ I think we can get more bang for our buck.”
But the alternative motion by Cleary was largely opposed, as councillors raised concerns that many polling stations aren’t along bus routes.
“Most of my polling stations are embedded right in the community somewhere, in a school or in a church or in a rec centre,” said Coun. Bill Karsten.
“I’m thinking of one where I live, people would have to walk 80 per cent of the way to the bus to get the rest of the way to the polling station, so it’s really, in my opinion, ill-advised.”
Others raised concerns over the lack of data on whether transit will make a difference in voter turnout, and how the introduction of electronic voting hasn’t so far seen big increases in voter turnout.
“You know, there’s an opportunity here — our seniors and our communities, because of COVID, have embraced technology like never before. They go to church online, they’ve connected with their families online now,” said Coun. Tony Mancini.
“My feeling is the energy and effort and investment should be made on the promotion of online and phone.”