Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Transit, Ages, the City and the Future

Seems a generic title, and it is. I grant you that right now. But there’s a point to the mundanity which we’ll get to right now: I spent this particular morning at Ottawa City Hall, watching the presentations to and deliberations of the city’s Transit Planning Committee.
From Photos

At issue this particular morning was the matter of a new policy begun this budgetary year at OC Transpo with the result being that if you want a student-priced bus pass, you’d better be age 27 or under or you might as well forget it.

From Photos

Yes, I know: students don’t always start post-secondary education at 18, and they don’t always finish with a degree or diploma or certificate in hand before they hit 27.

Well, there were fifteen presentations from assorted interest groups and individual citizens at this meeting on that particular subject. To the last man and woman, with their own specific concerns in play, they all had variants of the same reply to this policy: you forget it. We can’t afford this. The city can’t afford this. The country and the planet cannot afford this.

For assorted reasons - budgetary for the individual students and their families, legal and budgetary(for different reasons) for the city, environmental(and possibly other aspects as well) for the nation and planet - they were all of them absolutely right to say this to City Hall in my eyes.

To their credit, with some caveats to varying degrees, the city transit committee agreed with that logic and they’ll be passing along that recommendation to the full city council. Which is where the crunch comes in. The transit committee is made up presently of eight of some thirty-plus councillors from across the city. The student pass recommendation needs at least another ten councillors onside, preferably from the core, suburban and rural wards.
From Photos

Yes, there are at least these three factions in play within the full council. It’s a legacy of the shotgun marriage of a merger of cities, towns and a couple of villages that the Ontario legislature pushed through back in the days of Mike Harris and his “Common Sense Revolution”. As a result of that, we have what we now call the City of Ottawa. More on that era of the province’s history has been said by smarter people than myself, so I’m not going into that digression right this moment.

Back on point: the idea that an age-based rule on who qualifies as a student, rather than the definition being rooted in whether or not you’re taking classes full-time, strikes me as nonsensical on its face. I’ve been to community college twice so far, and may yet do so for a third, “hat trick” diploma. In both instances, I attended classes alongside fellow students who would be characterized as “mature” to varying degrees. Certainly, several in each of those two batches of fellow students were over 27.

How many would the disqualification for student pricing on bus passes have made the difference between affording their studies or ploughing onward in some other, possibly more desperate direction for their lives? I heard a figure of somewhere between $200 to $500 over an entire year being bandied about at a couple of points. One month’s groceries or car insurance premiums, it was said.

Another aspect of grabbing one form of cost savings at the expense of some nastier bills being payable down the road: it was mentioned in one of the presentations that the mayor of Saskatoon recently said that making bus passes more affordable for their local student population made a considerable dent in their annual road and highway maintenance expenses.

And as for pollution issues...well, let’s leave that to your imaginations. They’re certainly at least as well informed as my own on the subject by now. Asthma incidence, global climate derangement and so on?


It was suggested that other cities across Canada are doing this kind of age-based definition of “student” for public transit purposes. If we’re the National Capital here - last we checked, Ottawa still holds that title - then it falls to us as a city to set a better example than everyone else on the map. If we fail in that, then we’d better call the PMO and ask for that referendum on transferring the title and its responsibilities, privileges and landmarks.

Over to you.

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