Edmonton council ponders free bus and LRT access on election day

Edmonton voters heading to the polls on federal election day Oct. 21st may be able to take the bus or LRT for free if council agrees to a motion by Coun. Aaron Paquette. 

Council asks for cost estimate of offering free transit for a day

Free transit for a day wouldn't apply to pass holders. (Natasha Riebe/CBC)

Edmonton voters heading to the polls on Oct. 21 may be able to take the bus or LRT for free if council agrees to a proposal raised by Coun. Aaron Paquette. 

He brought up the idea at a council meeting Thursday, suggesting more people would cast ballots if they could get to the polls without paying. 

"I take voting very seriously and I think I take the ability to allow other people to vote very seriously," Paquette said.

He said he has heard from constituents that low-income people may be deterred from travelling to polling stations. 

"This would help families — help people who are going through financial issues," Paquette said. "Let's remove that barrier for one day." 

I think the gesture has power.- Coun. Ben Henderson

One-way cash fare in Edmonton is $3.50.

Paquette's motion directs city administration to calculate how much the city would lose in fares on a full weekday.

Administration is expected to present the findings in a verbal report at the next council meeting on Oct. 8. 

Council agreed to the motion Thursday after debating the proposal. 

Coun. Sarah Hamilton said the city already subsidizes low-income riders.

"We have a lot of programs that address those barriers," she said. "I'm concerned we're going to end up giving up a whole bunch of cash to help, frankly, people like me, have a free day of riding transit when I can totally afford it." 

Coun. Scott McKeen said he wants to make sure it's a practical move.

"Symbolically it sounds wonderful," McKeen said during the meeting. "I kind of hope that this report on the impact would look at whether or not we're accomplishing anything."

City manager Linda Cochrane said analyzing the cost implications would be fairly straightforward.

Administration wouldn't give an estimate of what the ETS collects in cash fares on weekdays, but most councillors suggested the amount wouldn't be large.

"I think the gesture has power," Coun. Ben Henderson said. "I think there could be significant benefit in terms of the statement by this city that we think it's important for people to vote." 

Henderson pointed out that the city offers free transit on New Year's Eve because it believes there's a public benefit to that service.

Paquette urged councillors to consider the reality of living in poverty.

"Three dollars and fifty cents doesn't sound like a lot to you and me right now, but that's a loaf of bread and some milk. And believe me, when you're on the raggedy edge that is a meaningful difference."

Paquette noted other municipalities have offered free transit on election days, including Lethbridge.

Council is expected to decide at the meeting next Tuesday whether to offer free transit on election day.



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