Wednesday, March 2, 2011

What would an out-of-towner premium mean for OC Transpo?

Cumberland councillor Stephen Blais, a member of the City of Ottawa's Transit Commission, recently put forward an idea to have commuters from outside the City of Ottawa who use OC Transpo pay a premium for the service. The premium, according to CTV Ottawa, would help cover the true cost of the service, and at least partially recover what "out-of-towners" don't pay to the service in property taxes.

While the idea is still very much in its infancy, it's one that, at least on the surface, seems rational. Since only about half of OC Transpo's operating costs are funded by fares (the other half coming from the tax base), a rider from Kemptville is paying about half as much as one from inside the city line.

By that rationale, though, tourists are also paying far less than the 'true cost' of OC Transpo rides they might be taking, and we're not about to start asking them to top-up their fares. It's always going to be a tricky line to walk when certain people pay for (part of) a service aren't the only ones who might use it.

One possible benefit of the move, according to CTV, would be unclogging the Park'N'Ride lots through the city. Which might be true, but even if it does, that just means more cars driving into the city, and fewer people taking the bus; is that really a positive outcome, overall?

As said above, it's still all hypothetical, and in the investigative stage; it won't even be considered until next year's budget. Who knows, perhaps staff will come up with an arrangement that brings in some extra income to offset the discrepancy, but still doesn't overly inconvenience out-of-town riders; that would be the ideal situation, realistically. But it will be interesting to see if the idea gets much political traction.


david said...

I live in the urban core, so I already have to accept that my property taxes subsidize suburbs and rural areas even inside Ottawa; however, I think this is an astoundingly poorly thought-out idea from Councillor Blais.

First, if someone's coming into Ottawa from Kemptville, she's probably coming in to work, study, shop, or play -- the employer, college, store, restaurant or theatre *is* paying Ottawa property taxes, and thus, is helping to subsidize the cost of her trip via OCTranspo.

Second, enforcement is a nightmare. When I want to hop the 95 at Kent and Albert, do I pay out-of-town fare if I forget my Ottawa identity card? How long will it take to board everyone at rush hour when the driver has to check each one? Or would the extra cost be only for transit passes, not for tickets?

A good transit system will make Ottawa a city people want to live in and one they want to visit, and that means more businesses, more jobs, and a bigger property tax base. With all those benefits, we should probably be giving visitors a transit discount.

Thall said...

Well thought out comment David. I totally agree.

I think this is one of those ideas that sounds great to everyone when you hear it ("Why shouldn't they pay their fair share?"), but of course this idea isn't much more than trying to propose something that is really a disaster because it sounds nice. This would never ever work and it would have the opposite effect of what Councillor Blais wants (unless he wants less people using Transit).

Eric S. Smith said...

I have to agree that an "out of towner" fare is a bad idea. Making transit less attractive to anyone is a bad thing, and I don't see how the city would get any kind of net benefit out of going to the trouble.

By the proposed rationale, a road toll would be the more obvious measure to take — roads, after all, having no "farebox" cost recovery at all — but of course that would be Crazy Talk.

Peter Raaymakers said...

To clarify, the premium wouldn't be on fares collected on the bus, or anything; it would, as I understand, be applied to transit passes sold outside the core.

But I agree with those who've commented so far: Sounds like a good idea, but probably isn't. It's also a politically palatable idea: You're looking to make Ottawa money by charging people who don't live here. It's a win-win: Please some constituents without angering any.

Steve said...

I for one am sick of those freeloading out-of-towners riding on my buses, driving down my roads, reading my streetsigns, being lit by my streetlights, walking on my sidewalks, picnicking in my parks, enjoying shade from my trees, and drinking water from my water fountains, which were paid for with my hard-earned tax dollars! MAKE THEM PAY!!!

(end sarcasm)

Anonymous said...

Umm... given the price premium of a rural express monthly pass, aren't we already charging "out-of-towners" more for services that legitimately cost more to run? That makes sense, but it should stop there...