Are right-wing-leaning, car-loving, we-think-two-people-in-a-car-equals-a-high-occupancy-vehicle Calgarians ready for transportation socialism? A new post-secondary transit pass system, which would cost students approximately $50 per semester to gain unlimited access to all Calgary public transit services, might test the student population's car addiction in light of the realistic benefits of a move towards using transit.
Ultimately, a program like this can only work if it's mandatory and all students participate, regardless of their transportation needs. So, you might ask, what does this mean for students who currently choose not to, don't have to or can't use
In theory, the proposal differs little from the Alberta Health Care fees we all pay; some people go to the doctor all the time, others don't, but we all pay the same amount in the end for access. However, students who willingly live within walking distance of the university to reduce their costs might object to being forced to pay about $12.50 a month so other students can access public transit for the same $12.50, as might those for whom the cost of running a car is negligible. Realistically though, those students must travel to other places in the city whether they have cars or not. A $1.75 per one-way trip means that only four one-way trips on the bus or train each month easily uses up that $12.50; five trips means you've gotten your money's worth in transit travel. Compared to the cost of insurance, gas and parking it's quite a steal.
In Ontario and British Columbia, the universal pass increased transit use among students by about 50 per cent. As well, most schools experienced extra benefits. For example, parking facility use at the University of Victoria went down 20 per cent, as did their recorded rate of emissions pollution on campus. Considering the University of Calgary is strapped for adequate parking, cheaper transit costs might encourage use of Park 'n' Ride facilities and transit. And even though buses require more fuel than individual cars, the overall environmental benefits of public transit are clear: reduced gas consumption, reduced emissions, more parking and less cars on the road.
Can we say goodbye to road rage? Hopefully. The soothing motion of transit travel leaves time to read notes, take a nap, reflect on the day and to ruminate about the psychological state of society's weirdos. It can also force us to slow our busy lives and plan our days instead of relying on our ability to jet all over the city willy-nilly at a moment's notice.
As well, when students pay for and then increase system usage, that system must evaluate their needs. If Calgary Transit experienced a noticeable increase in transit use to the university, they would be forced to reconsider their service, possibly in the form of new routes for underserviced communities, extended-hours service, shuttle buses and more buses overall to reduce waiting times.
Finally, although Calgarians believe the well will never dry up, oil is a non-renewable resource. A reduction in private car use and an increase in public transit or that other elusive solution, carpooling, means safer roads, fewer environmental risks, mental health benefits and maybe even a grinding halt to Calgary's sprawling nature. At any rate, it's definitely worth a look.