The London Ontario group, LTC Bus People stated that “although provincial and federal governments provide tax credits and sometimes grants for public transit, the ongoing funding of a transit system is the responsibility of municipal governments.”
Unfortunately, not all municipalities see it that way. After all, public transit costs money, and that cuts into already tight municipal budgets. Road maintenance alone in our rural region in Southeastern Ontario is a huge drain, and municipalities are constantly complaining about being saddled with services dumped on them by the province.
Also, historically, people in rural regions have always used personal transportation to get around – at first by walking, or ox cart, or horse and buggy, and more recently by car and the ever-present pick-up truck. And, traditionally, folks without their own vehicles who are fortunate enough to hitch rides with neighbours can continue to remain in their own homes, if not somewhat tenuously.
But the times, they are a changin’. We are seeing more ratepayers in our rural Ontario region who do not drive and do not want to be forced to leave their homes just to meet basic survival needs. And, many are fiercely independent; they do not (or will not) rely on friends and neighbours for transportation. They demand public transit, and some municipalities are slow to recognize and respond to this growing need in their communities.
Fuelling the increased demand for public transit in our rural region are an aging population and disproportionate number of low-income ratepayers. Some of our older seniors are losing their licences. Others relied on a recently deceased spouse to do the driving. And, the high cost of personal transportation is a major deterrent for many residents in our region, which has been designated as economically depressed.
In their Transportation Association of Canada paper “Right-sizing Transit: What is a Reasonable Level of Transit Investment?” (2010), Wally Beck and co-author, Mark Mis discuss the inequity of underfunded or non-funded public transit for ratepayers who don’t drive. In other words “what a non-car owner pays to support the car owner.”
Beck and Mis point out that, “Since auto ownership is a surrogate of income, it means the lower income resident who cannot afford a car is paying taxes to support a higher income resident who owns a car. Yet, if there is no transit service, then the higher income resident does not support the low income resident through the taxes needed to support a good level of transit service; herein lies the unfairness.”
We, who offer public transit service to the seven municipalities that comprise the north half of Hastings County, along with the municipality of Highlands East in Haliburton County, encourage councilors with vision to continue to champion local public transit. Further, we hope councilors who have not supported public transit in the past will begin to understand the value of supporting their non-driving constituents with the fair and equitable allocation of property tax dollars toward public transit.
Author: John Keith, Manager of Transportation Services