Should Public Transit Be Declared An Essential Service

As an environmentalist, I am inclined to say yes to that question because of the extensive environmental benefits provided by public transit systems, the main one, of course, being the fact that it reduces automobile use considerably and in some cases can make car ownership unnecessary.

But the first question we have to answer is what does that mean.

If public transit is essential, like police and health care services, then it must be provided. There must be legislation requiring municipalities above a certain size to provide a public transit service.

If public transit is essential, then it must be publicly provided. It cannot be left to the whims of the private sector that will only provide service where it is profitable.

It must be a meaningful service so the legislation must provide standards of service that must be provided.

It must also be affordable to all citizens, especially lower income citizens. In order to do this fares must only be used to cover a portion of the costs, no more than fifty percent.

Since municipalities have the least effective and least equitable taxing powers of all levels of government, funding must be provided by all three levels of government, municipal, provincial and federal.

And for it to be effective in getting people to make permanent lifestyle changes it must be reliable and provided without interruption.

This would require removing the right to strike from workers and the right to lock-out workers during labour disputes from management and replacing it with a fair system of compulsory arbitration when negotiations and mediation fail. It should also be noted that despite whatever legislation may be in place strong unions always maintain the ability to strike if the alternative measures are not applied fairly.

Legislation declaring public transit an essential service must include all of these factors if we are truly treating it as an essential service. It has to be a lot more than just taking rights away from workers.

While we are discussing declaring services essential for their environmental benefits, I would suggest that a comprehensive system of commuter bike routes also be declared an essential service that must be provided by all municipalities.

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