From Victoria to Saskatoon to Halifax, cities across Canada introduced fare-free public transportation while coping with the COVID-19 pandemic. In Edmonton, this transition allowed essential workers and community members to navigate our city without the burden of fare. It also revealed what our city could look like if we prioritized Edmontonians’ right to mobility.
In Summer 2020, we called on the City of Edmonton to go beyond a temporary, reactive emergency response and make the Edmonton Transit System permanently fare free.
We also launched a toolkit to support activists in cities across Canada to push their municipal governments to make the Fare Free Forever pledge.
WHY FARE FREE?
Research shows that access to reliable and efficient public transportation provides greater accessibility to employment, increased social inclusion, improved education levels, quality of life, and improved health. However, fares disincentivize transit use, resulting in lower transit ridership, and disproportionately burden low-income households that don’t own a car and rely on transit for mobility. Fares also present an immediate barrier to mobility for those who do not have secure and safe housing or access to a living wage. Moreover, the abolishment of fare collection on transit is a direct antidote to the discriminatory practice of fare enforcement. While people of all ages, genders, races, and income levels evade fares, marginalized peoples are disproportionately targeted for fare inspection and ticketing. The demand for fare free transit is also reflected in the Defund the Police - Action Plan by Black Lives Matter Edmonton and Area Chapter.
Fare-free transit has the potential to address both social inequality and environmental sustainability. Making transit fare free to users offers a transformative solution for addressing systemic bias and racial and economic discrimination, isolation and lack of access to services. It provides relief to those who currently depend on transit and offers an incentive to new transit users. It has the potential to dramatically increase ridership and thereby help to reduce carbon emissions, air pollution, and road congestion. Ultimately, it underscores that mobility in one’s city is a right, not a privilege.
COVID-19 has amplified pre-existing systemic issues across the nation that will only continue to harm individuals, families, and workers across the country.
COVID-19 has necessitated major investment into social services and community support, while also demanding a call to all levels of government—municipal, provincial, and federal—to better invest in people-first services like our public transit systems. Our municipal governments are asking for support, and provincial and federal governments need to step up and prioritize public transit across the country.
There is no better time to transform our transit system into one that is socially and environmentally sustainable, and which sets up Edmonton for the future.
In the short-term, our community’s mobility needs will increase as we reduce social distancing and reopen our economies, including access to employment, child care, services, shopping, and community support. Fare-free public transportation will support residents in their return to a “new normal” without the unnecessary barrier of transit fares.
Above all, the City of Edmonton has a responsibility to meet the needs of the whole community. Public transit is a necessary service that should be funded as a public utility. Our taxes pay for libraries, healthcare and schools—why not public transit?
We need expanded, accessible, fare-free, and frequent public transportation, not only in Edmonton, but across the country, and not just during the pandemic, but forever—for the sake of our communities, our economies, and our climate.