What if Kingston…

give up your carOver the past few months we’ve watched numerous developments take shape such as bike lanes and the Montreal Street Park and Ride, while we’ve also learned of priority projects including long overdue lane extensions and the third crossing. While these initiatives are similar as they relate to how we move about the Limestone City, they’re also on different ends of the spectrum. By nature of their design, park and rides are meant to increase uptake of public transit and decrease the number of single serving automobiles on the road. Conversely, while lane extensions are justified by the necessity to alleviate congestion in certain areas, they potentially pave the way for more traffic and even more emissions.  If you put any stock into Statistics Canada’s report on greenhouse gas emissions that placed Kingston far above the per capita rates of all other metropolitan areas, perhaps we need to tame development in favour of automobiles.

Kingston’s alleged addiction to automobiles does not sit well with many, especially when considered next to our goal to become Canada’s most sustainable city.  Sure we’ve got our green bin program, taken steps to expanded our plastic recycling, and are able to bask in the reflected glory of the Wolfe Island wind farm, but we’ve got a long ways to go.  What initiatives should we be considering to help swing the pendulum in favour of mass transit and other alternative means of transportation?  What if Kingston offered free public transit?

There are approximately 30 international cities throughout the world who offer some form of free public transportation, while some limit the sweet deal to certain routes, districts or times of day, others offer free, year-round access to their taxpayer funded transit systems.  American cities such as Vero Beach, Florida (population 140,000) and Hawaii County, Hawaii (population 175,000) have developed free mass transit systems, and given their comparable population sizes, they serve as positive test cases for how a gratis transit scheme could work in Kingston.

Taking this radical idea one step further, Murcia, Spain recently unveiled a unique incentive program whereby residents who traded in their personal automobiles were rewarded with free, lifetime access to the city’s mass transit system.

Murcia started its car-free campaign by demonstrating one of the main disadvantages of owning a car: you have to have a place to park it. Using humour to drive the point home, the City set up a series of cars parked in impossible places around town, such as atop other cars.

Do you think many Kingstonian’s would relinquish their automobiles in favour of a free, lifetime public transit pass?  Would taxpayer funds be better spent on offering free transit service rather than spent on lane expansions and third crossings?  Not only do I think the answer to both of those questions is yes, but I believe the positive ramifications would stretch beyond curing traffic congestion and greenhouse gases, as the result could include more bike lanes, business opportunities for car sharing, and increased levels of personal fitness.  By leading the way and becoming the first Canadian city to adopt a free transit system, Kingston could set itself apart from other sustainable wannabes and reap the benefits.

Special thanks to skew-t for today’s photo.

Harvey Kirkpatrick

Harvey Kirkpatrick is Kingstonist's Co-Founder. His features curiously explore urban planning, what if scenarios, the local food scene and notable Kingstonians. Loves playing tourist and listening to rap music. Learn more about Harvey...

9 thoughts on “What if Kingston…

  • I very seldom ever drive, opting to walking or busing from my home in Cataraqui Woods to any of the various places that I need (or want) to go in the city… including Fort Henry. A long walk, yes, but the walk is invigorating spiritually and physically good for both myself and for the planet (and the future for my nieces and nephews and their nieces and nephews).

    The idea of free public transit, or a public transit system that would operate free for people who have specifically forgone their cars is a great idea to me. It promotes all the right things about the transit system and has exactly the right impact on our city, its roads and the air we breathe.

  • Free or not free, the bottom line for me is that whatever they do with the transit system here, it has to be able to get me where I need to go when I need to go there. I am capable of planning my time so I can make it to bus stops, but there is presently no bus that will get me from my job to my child's daycare in time to get her before it closes. If this sort of problem is not resolved I will not be able to give up my car, my insurance, and my downtown parking spot (cha-ching). I would dearly love to, but it's not possible. If they stop charging, but make no other improvements, I still won't be able to use it.

    I would support public money being diverted into improvements to our transit system, especially to increase trip frequency. My thinking is you have to build it before they will come. I do try to use KT when I can, but since I can't rely on it to get me to and from work on time, that tends to be weekends. Sunday my daughter and I were downtown and missed the bus home. We had an hour to wait for the next one. Unacceptable.

  • There is no such thing as free transit. You either pay for it with user fees or through the tax base. I would be happy to use a well funded public transit system, but lets not pretend that our taxes would not go up…. Until you make parking so cost-prohibitive through high parking fees, it really is difficult to change peoples driving/parking behaviours.

    If Kingston had proper vision (which they dont) and enough of a tax base (which they dont), I think a Light Rail Transit system from the west end to down Princess would be great, or some trams like they have in Amsterdam.

    • Totally agree with you, free transit isn't necessarily free as taxes would have to foot the bill and increase. But then again, we all have to pay for a third crossing or lane expansions. Why are these things considered the solution to our transit woes, when in reality they're really just bandaids.

      • Agreed,
        Somewhere, probably here in the Kingstonist, someone said something like "Increasing the amount of lanes to solve gridlock, is like buying bigger pants because you are too fat" or something to that effect. I thought it was a brilliant saying.
        Herein lies the rub – The people who are more wealthy will pay the most in property taxes, wont use the transit services – for whatever reason and there are a bunch of them – and are more apt to maintain their car-based lifestyle because they can. These folks often have a lot of clout and can influence politicians more than Joe Sixpack, who is the one more likely to use transit in the first place.
        I think the key is making the transit system attractive enough for all to use so that the wealthiest and more powerful folk see it as a viable alternative… and that means more routes, frequency of bus trips, less parking options (due to scarcity of parking or higher prices), and so on.

  • I would love to see free transit for everyone, and think it's a fantastic idea. As was pointed out, we could put the money into transit instead of a third crossing or widening John Counter. As has also been pointed out, if you increase roads, they will get filled eventually– it's not a long-term, sustainable solution. We need to be looking at innovative solutions, and ways to get more people off cars. Free public transit would also benefit people with low incomes. I would have no problem paying more tax to fund such a system (though it's not clear that higher taxes would result, if we are not putting more money into automobile-driven solutions). But we would also need to improve the transit system– increasing the number of routes and frequency of service. I also like the idea of reducing parking and making it more expensive.

    So if we are serious about this, we should try to get City Council to investigate. Which committee would be the one to talk to?

  • Kingston transit takes in $8m or so in fares. With no increase in service or capacity, property taxes would have to go up about 5% to cover that. Since the city has been operating with a built in tax increase greater then inflation every year, you'd be looking at a 8-9% tax increase next year to do it, assuming no new big projects. But if it was free then no doubt capacity would need to increase, with a much larger tax increase to cover the capital and operating costs of that

    The bridge is expensive, but free transit would plow through the city's expected 1/3 cost in less then 5 years. Moving the cost to property taxes really hurts the poor relative to income and the fact renters pay double the rate because of the multi residential tax ratio on existing buildings over 6 units. Property taxes with no regard for income are a very regressive way to fund services.

  • The Green Party of Manitoba will be considering support of a province wide
    Zero Fare bus service at their AGM later this month.
    This GPM proposal as I understand it, will see the (est.) $60M expected to come from
    riders directly, will instead be paid directly to Winnipeg & Brandon Transit from our provincial tax dollars .
    All other shared costs with the city & province would remain the same. The Green party is also
    budgeting for longer hours with better service. Final expences will be factored into accomodating
    a rappid doubling of ridership at peek times. & an extencive new mini bus system to encourage/create
    riders for off peak & new suberb traffic.
    I have heard GPM leader James Beddome say "spending public money on efficient
    User Free public transportation is as Canadian as spending public money on user free
    education & user free health care". and it is hard to disagree with him.
    The voters that choose to vote for the Manitoba Green Party on October 4, could be
    casting votes for User Free bus service & provincial tax $$$'s well spent.
    If anyone wants to help out, advise, or just say high the Green Party

  • The free transit rides for Saturday's (June 30) Princess street promenade seemed to be a big success, the routes I normally took were at least double the passengers, if not packed to standing room only.

    Also, do we really need hourly Sunday service anymore? can this not be changed to regular weekday schedule?

    And Amherstview is still getting the short end of the stick, cut off at 6:30 weekdays and abandoned completely on Sundays. This could be a valuable work force and a shopping boost to the local economy.

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