Councillor Sam Merulla's recent suggestion that public transit in Hamilton ought to be free would risk making transit an economically and politically unsustainable venture for the city.
Transit should not be a handout. Public funding is necessary, but riders should pay so that a large portion of the cost of providing the service is carried by those who use it.
Certainly, lower fares would be beneficial to boost ridership and ensure that poorer citizens aren't priced out of it. But the long-term future of public transit in this city would be put in jeopardy if transit suddenly turned into a huge money sink for the city. It gives way too many excuses to narrow-minded councillors to cut it.
It also gives the wrong impression of transit users, namely, that they are a segment of the population that requires a handout (read "welfare bums" from the perspective of non-transit-using voters) as opposed to economically significant, productive members of society, giving further ammunition to those sectors of the city opposed to meaningful progress on urban revitalization issues.
Nor does this proposal attract the kind of riders that the city wants: people who normally drive. These people already pay large sums of money for transportation, and even paying the current fares would be a huge money saver for them. Do they really need free fares?
None of the cities I've traveled to that had incredible public transit systems had free fares. If you want to ride for free in these cities, you have to jump the turnstile. Hamilton should be no different.
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