MDB Insight Blog

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Is Your Community Ready for a Free Transit Pilot Project?

Paris recently proposed a free transit pilot project in order to reduce pollution in the metropolitan core. Closer to home, Edmonton has also proposed a transit pilot project that will last one year. The main objectives for Edmonton are to ease congestion, reduce collisions, decrease parking requirements and reduce the negative effects on the environment, all of which save money. Additionally, without the need to collect fares, councillors argue that the transit operators’ safety will also increase. These large, urban cities may have large budgets to absorb this cost, but making public transit accessible is a goal that all municipalities can work towards.

The Benefits of a Free Public Transit Pilot Project

Public transit is an essential service for residents to get to and from work, and around the community. In order for people to contribute to the local economy, they need to be able to easily and affordably get to their workplaces as well as to local services and shops. When it’s easier to move around — thanks to improved municipal services — people will be more likely to spend their money in the local economy.

Of course many residents choose not to use public transit, and instead drive to and from work. Even though residents pay for this luxury, there are associated costs that are not paid for by drivers. Choosing cars over public transit leads to congestion of major roadways which costs residents:

  • time
  • money
  • environmental damage
  • health issues due to vehicle emissions

Making public transit more affordable and educating residents on the costs associated with driving helps to convince more residents to leave their cars at home and hop on transit.

Luckily, there is a trend emerging where citizens are more aware of and responsive to sustainability and the environmental greater good. There are many ways to align the municipality’s budget with residents’ growing desire for a greener community.

Potential Drawbacks of a Public Transit Pilot Project

One of the key challenges for a public transit pilot project will be to attract ridership. Die-hard drivers will need to be convinced that the inconvenience of transit schedules and walking to a stop will be outweighed by the financial savings of leaving the car at home.

The major drawback of free transit is, of course, that it will need to be paid from municipal council’s budget, which inevitably means that taxes will be increased. Even though available public transit for all would be better for the local economy, it will not be viewed as a worthy expense by everyone; more details on how to quantify this dissatisfaction are given below.

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3 Pilot Project Possibilities

There are three different options to consider when evaluating a pilot project for your community.

  1. Before implementing any trials in the community, or spending a large portion of the city’s budget, surveys could be effectively employed to gather data. A survey of citizen satisfaction with the current transit system could be conducted to determine where improvements to transit should be made. A tax sensitivity survey could also be conducted to provide you with the data you need to justify the budget expenditure on free transit, while ensuring that the community would be happy to pay for this service. Tax surveys conducted using advanced tools, such as the Tax Sensitivity CalculatorTM, reach a more widely representative sample of your constituents for a fraction of the cost of creating and implementing a traditional survey.

  2. Prior to initiating a service-wide pilot project making transit free for your entire community, there are a few steps you can take to ensure that it will be well received. First, a smaller free transit pilot project could be conducted, focusing only on the elderly and children. Second, a free bus pass could be issued to low-income earners in the community, facilitating easy transit to boost employment.

  3. Finally, free transit could be offered to all riders on routes that are popular and service high traffic stations. Citizens would then be encouraged to use transit to access these areas, increasing visitor and resident economic contributions while maximizing ridership during the free transit pilot project.

Presenting the Free Transit Pilot Project to Council

After your pilot project, you can conduct another citizen satisfaction or tax survey to collect data before presenting final plans. Armed with carefully curated information and reports that can get council up to speed, the decision for or against free transit will be easily made, avoiding lengthy budget discussions.

For More Information on How to Stop Council Budget Arguments:

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References:

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/paris-public-transport-free-pollution-anne-hidalgo-cars-a8269581.html

https://edmontonjournal.com/news/local-news/if-the-numbers-add-up-city-councillor-asks-edmonton-to-examine-free-transit

https://efficientgov.com/blog/2015/07/08/pros-cons-making-public-transportation-free/

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