By Stephanie Swensrude
Free Transit Edmonton is a “group of misfits” centred around the idea that mobility is a human right.
“Transit is an essential service,” said Danika McConnell, an organizer for the group.
The group formed in August 2019 when the City of Edmonton declared a climate emergency. McConnell commented on the tendency to think globally as opposed to locally when confronted with a problem like climate change.
“We looked at transit and thought, this is something we engage with daily,” McConnell said. “Let’s start here.”
The collective is made up of local students and part-time and full-time workers from a variety of backgrounds. Their goal is free, expansive, connected and accessible transit.
Currently, they want to build a community of support behind the movement. The organization held a Transit Challenge Week in February where they challenged Edmontonians to use public transit and raise awareness for the cause.
Among supporters for their cause was Aaron Paquette, city councillor for Ward 4. He has been vocal since being elected in 2017 about what he calls a “tax on poverty”. He questions the fact that fare evasion tickets are up to seven times the amount of parking tickets.
“If you get caught evading [the $3.50 fare], your ticket is $250,” said McConnell. “The numbers don’t make sense and they disproportionately affect those who are on the margins and at risk in our communities.”
On February 1, 2020, before fares were temporarily suspended due to COVID-19, ETS fares were changed. Though the single cash fare has only risen 30 cents since 2015, this year saw some fares nearly double.
Senior monthly passes changed from $15 per month to $34 per month, and senior annual passes changed from $136.50 to $374.
McConnell has concerns that the upcoming Bus Network Redesign will leave vulnerable Edmontonians disconnected.
“We have heard from seniors that this is going to keep them isolated in their homes,” said McConnell.
McConnell is also concerned about the reduction in the number of bus routes.
“When you shrink a transit system, you inherently shrink the usage,” she said.
McConnell aims to change the perception that fares are necessary for a transit system to work.
“I feel like folks get quite centric thinking that fare is what puts the fuel in and fare is what pays the bus driver,” she said. “It’s not that simple … Fares are just a chunk of the pie.”
“There are a lot of ways in the current budget … we should be evaluating how other money is currently spent,” McConnell said, “[transit is] an essential utility in this city.”
Before cancellations due to COVID-19, Free Transit Edmonton had plans to hold a Town Hall to discuss next steps with Edmontonians.
If you are interested in attending the Free Transit Town Hall when it is rescheduled, you can check their twitter at @FreeTransitYEG.