In a number of cities across the world, including in Canada and the U.S., public transit, or a portion of it, is free.
In Baltimore, a fleet of free shuttles travel four routes.
In Tacoma, getting around downtown is free on light rail.
Here at home in Canada, Winnipeg has a free route downtown.
In Calgary, a section of its train service downtown is free.
It seems to make sense.
With no fares, more people would use the bus and other forms of transit.
More people will stop using cars.
For people concerned about global warming and climate change, that should be a good thing because there will be less greenhouse gas emissions.
It appears that everyone benefits.
However, mainstream politicians and environmentalists aren’t eager to endorse the idea.
So that leaves George Gidora and his party on the driver’s seat for this concept.
Gidora drives a community shuttle bus for Coast Mountain Bus Company Ltd., an operating company of TransLink, the regional transportation authority in Metro Vancouver.
Gidora has been on the wheel for 10 years, and he believes that public transit should be free.
“Transit should be as minimal as possible or ultimately and ideally, it should be free,” Gidora told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.
According to Gidora, “all of society” benefits from free transit.
That includes businesses, especially those whose workers rely mainly on transit to get to their places of employment.
Gidora pointed out that the current transit system doesn’t rely significantly on fares.
By his estimate, fares constitute a fifth of the revenues of TransLink, with most coming from taxes and government transfers.
A review of the 2015 TransLink annual report shows that a total of almost $388 million in fares were collected in that year.
According to the report, transit fares increased $9.7 million (2.6 per cent) compared to 2014 due to “increased ridership and changing patterns in fare product purchases”.
In 2015, TransLink had revenue totalling of $1.3 billion, and fares constituted 28 percent.
Gidora noted that while public transit is supported to a large degree by all taxpayers, the cost of getting around through public transportation is a huge burden for many.
Referring to the current one-zone fare, Gidora said: “Two dollars and seventy five cents for an adult fare may not sound a lot for somebody who has a job, but if you have a marginal job right or you’re unemployed or have no income whatsoever, it’s an insurmountable burden to have to pay that.”
Gidora is also the leader of the Communist Party of B.C.
The party’s platform for the May 9, 2017 provincial election includes free public transit.
Gidora is running in Surrey-Whalley.
The party’s other candidates are Kimball Cariou, Vancouver-Hastings; Peter Marcus, Vancouver-Mount Pleasant; Tyson Strandlund, Esquimalt – Metchosin; Peter Kerek, Kamloops - North Thompson; and Beat Klossner, Kamloops - South Thompson.
TransLink is currently reviewing the existing fare system.
Among the options being considered is distance-based fares.
While noting that there are no specific details yet about charging riders by the distance, Gidora is worried that working and poor people may end up paying more.
Gidora explained that because of the high cost of housing in urban centres, many people live farther out, which means they travel long distances to get to work.