Edmonton

'Open and accepting of all': Coalition calls for free transit in Edmonton

A coalition of transit advocates launched a campaign Monday for free public transportation in Edmonton. 

Free Transit Edmonton challenges councillors to use only public transport for a week

Steve Bradshaw, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 569, said about 30 per cent of assaults on operators arise out of fare disputes, and he supports a free transit strategy for the city. (Jean-Emanuel Fortier/Radio-Canada)

A coalition of transit advocates launched a campaign Monday for free public transportation in Edmonton. 

"We want to see public transit funded like our libraries, schools, hospitals and other public services — open and accepting of all, regardless of their ability to pay," said Laura Kruse an organizer with Free Transit Edmonton.

The group argues free transit would increase ridership and help alleviate poverty; it also wants to see an improved transit system to make it more appealing and accessible for people to use every day.

Calling mobility a "human right," Kruse said, "It would be unconscionable to walk into a hospital and ask for a fee, we want transit to be viewed the same way."

Kruse noted the city has set a goal of being carbon-neutral by 2050. The coalition challenged every city councillor to use nothing but public transit this week.

Coun. Ben Henderson was at the campaign launch. He said he rarely uses his vehicle. While he supports efforts for a better transit system, Henderson said he was hesitant to endorse the "free transit" approach. 

"I'd like to get it a lot more affordable, but I think there are unintended consequences to totally free. But certainly affordable, effective and efficient transit I'm totally on board for," he said.

The city collects approximately $130-million in transit revenue every year, according to the 2019-2022 city operating budget.

The campaign launch also included speeches from Heath Birkholz of the Self-Advocacy Federation and Steve Bradshaw, President of the Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 569. 

Bradshaw said about 30 per cent of assaults on transit operators result from fare disputes, and removing fares could help prevent such assaults.

Council debated the idea of free transit for last October's federal election, but ultimately decided against it. Coun. Aaron Paquette was planning to introduce a motion to have city staff examine the idea of free transit, but instead revised his wording to look at identifying strategies to improve ridership and value for service.