Thursday, April 3, 2008

Getting rural constituents more pissed off

According to a story by Joe Banks in the Ottawa Citizen, city council had plans in place to begin charging residents of rural areas, who have traditionally been exempt from transit levies by virtue of being outside of the Urban Transit Area, some sort of transit levy. This was based on the questionable research done that said 22 per cent of users of suburban Park'N'Rides were from rural areas.

Aside from the questionable data, the process of putting this recommendation on the table was not at all transparent. Banks goes over the many issues with the proposal, and in the process recommends that if some rural residents are indeed using the Park'N'Ride services paid for by urban and suburban residents, perhaps a user-based fee would be more reasonable than charging everyone in the area for a service that, by all accounts, is used by a minimal minority.

Property taxes are already substantially lower in those peripheral towns. Cost-free park and rides make it more viable for people to live outside Ottawa and commute in to it. Every morning, on my drive on Highway 416, I see a growing number of cars heading north from Kemptville, Spencerville, Prescott, for whom the commute remains viable, without having to contribute a dime to the system through their tax bill. We'll see how staff, if they continue to insist on a plan to hose rural Ottawans for a service they say that one in five of us use, intends to ding those people for taking up space paid for entirely by Ottawa taxpayers.

User pay would do it.

In the meantime, in what is becoming a familiar pattern, rural residents are again forced into telling the city what they don't want, the flip-side of those groups and people who have become accustomed to announcing what they do.

Maybe some day those wants and needs will find common ground and with it, a vision that appeals to everybody. Until then, logic should prevail.
There is no good reason to charge all rural residents a transit levy. They already pay a premium fare for express rural service that is unpredictable and often unreliable. There would naturally be some who use Park'N'Ride lots in suburban areas, so a user-based system might be good. But it could also be a slippery slope; what if those in urban and suburban areas decide that they don't use transit services, so why shouldn't there be a user-pays system in place in the centre, too?

And if a levy were put in place, how much would it be? If service for rural residents is, say, one-tenth as good as that in urban areas, and one-quarter that of suburbs, they should realistically be expected to pay no more than a fraction of the normal fees.

Another difficult issue to address when plans are put forward. Banks' column is a good read, whether or not you agree with his proposal of a rural transit levy, I recommend interested readers check it out.