EDMONTON - City Council has declared that the Edmonton Transit System will resume collecting fares on June 15, 2020. Juan Vargas Alba, an organizer from Free Transit Edmonton, a campaign that advocates for the expansion of the public transit system and the removal of user fares, explained how the pandemic and resultant economic crisis are far from over and that the move to reinstate fares is the wrong direction for the city to take.
“The move to make transit fare free was one step toward understanding the vital importance that public transit plays in our overall public health,” Vargas Alba said. “Now, to see the return of fares while we’re still navigating a local health emergency can only be seen as irresponsible—and on top of it all, the city is resorting back to user fees without having done any financial analysis on how it will impact the city budget.”
“It’s poorly thought out at best, and disastrous and dangerous at worst,” Vargas Alba continued. “The city has said that front-door boarding will recommence, but has not indicated if they will ensure proper personal protective equipment for our transit system’s operators. With the anticipated second wave of COVID-19, this places people in inevitable and unnecessary risk.”
Vargas Alba also emphasized that the costs of fare collection are far higher than they initially seem.
“The city also made indications about continuing the increased police presence in order to enforce fares,” Vargas Alba said. “This decision will have adverse effects, as an increased police presence reduces physical distancing and at the root of all of this, punishes our most vulnerable. Riders who cannot afford fare then face fare evasion fines and other severe repercussions at a time where ridership and employment levels are at all-time lows. The costs to maintain this increased police presence is also a concern, and those funds could be directed back into our public transit system.”
Vargas Alba explained that the transit systems in Edmonton and all over Canada have been chronically underfunded and over-reliant on fares for decades.
“Working people should not have to bear the brunt of this crisis with fare increases. We need all levels of government—municipal, provincial and federal—to stop viewing user fares as a source of revenue, and rather fund public transportation as the essential public service that it is,” Vargas Alba said. “We need expanded and fare-free 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.”
Free Transit Edmonton is running an email campaign with a list of demands including an emergency bailout for the transit system in Edmonton and across the country, and for sustainable long-term funding from the provincial and federal governments.
The group will also be launching a Canada-wide campaign,Fare Free Forever, with activists from cities that have made their public transit systems fare-free as a response to the pandemic.