Turning inner space into outer space

February 17, 2011

What fare is fair?

One of the big arguments against increasing bus fares is that it discourages people from using public transit. In other words, potential riders will take a bus less often in order to save money.

But does this reasoning hold water? At least one study suggests that it does.

In 1991, the American Public Transit Association found that, on average, a 10 per cent increase in bus fares results in a four per cent decrease in ridership. They also found that riders in small cities are more sensitive to fare increases than those in large cities.

What that means for Kamloops, and apparently City councillors are aware of this, is that ridership here will likely drop when fares go up by 10 per cent on April 1. If the study is correct, the falloff will be more than four per cent.

The hope in City Hall is that after an initial reduction, ridership will climb back up to previous levels. So council is actually playing it safe.

But what about something more radical? Why not make transit totally free? The idea is not as far-fetched as it may seem, and was put forward recently in Vancouver.

An article in the Vancouver Courier makes a good case for free bus service downtown, pointing to similar free-fare systems in downtown Portland, Ore., Whidbey Island, Wash., and several jurisdictions in Europe and Asia.

The main attraction of free transit is that it would relieve congestion and cut down on pollution. While these are legitimate concerns in major cities, they would be a tough sell in a smaller city like Kamloops.

Still, free downtown shuttle buses might be a way to alleviate parking concerns. Shoppers could go from store to store without having to hunt for a parking space.

In the end, it would be heartening to see our City council at least try something innovative instead of continuing to plod along the same tried-and-true path that makes no one happy. Free fares might not be the best way to go, but why not use the concept as a starting point to generate some sorely needed new ideas.