No free ride for transit users

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Anyone from outside Calgary using services in the city is not getting a free ride.

Politicians and residents from the city have often lamented over the years about people from outlying communities using Calgary’s roads, transit and other services without paying taxes to the City.

The debate arose once again earlier this month when Calgary Coun. Brian Pincott said residents from Okotoks get a “double subsidy” when they use Calgary transit. They may pay the fare, he said, but it only covers half the cost to operate the service. The other half is paid by city taxpayers.

To be clear, he is not asking Okotoks residents to pay extra to use the LRT. He wants the provincial government to provide financial support for transit operating costs.

Residents from Okotoks and other outlying communities are not free-loading. They pay a fare to use the C-Train or take a bus in Calgary. They pay taxes to the provincial and federal governments, which then provide funding city to build infrastructure in Calgary. They support businesses in the city, which then pay municipal taxes.

This is not just a Calgary issue. The same goes for anyone using services in communities they don’t call home. Calgarians attend swimming classes in Okotoks. Residents across the Foothills use services in Okotoks, High River, Black Diamond, Turner Valley and the MD of Foothills. People from across the Calgary region descend in large numbers to Banff and Canmore.

Granted, the LRT is well used by residents from outside Calgary, but they are still a minority.

Provincial support for transit services is one part of the ultimate solution, but it’s a regional issue and should be solved at the regional level. And, a solution should come sooner rather than later. The City of Airdrie already offers commuter transit service to Calgary and a two-year transit pilot project linking the Foothills to the south Calgary LRT is ready to roll this fall.

And, perhaps part of the solution is zone-based fares in the city where people traveling longer distances on transit pay a higher price than those taking a short trip. In the long-term, the a regional transit commission maybe required to manage a large, regional transit service.

Whatever the decision is, it needs to be fair and cannot deter people from taking transit.

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