Tuesday, August 02, 2005

The Tories Want to Pay You To Take The Bus

Downtown Ottawa is not really what I'd call car-friendly. To work downtown I either bike it (weather permitting) or take the bus; trying to find secure parking is too much of a pain.

Which is why I'm somewhat intrigued by this idea:

A Conservative government would offer tax rebates to Canadians who use public transportation, party leader Stephen Harper will announce at a national caucus meeting in Toronto this week.

The party's finance critic, Alberta MP Monte Solberg, met with Toronto Mayor David Miller recently to discuss the proposal, which Conservatives hope will increase their popularity in the Greater Toronto Area.

"The plan is to be announced this week, the reason it was brought up at that meeting was just to give [Mayor Miller] a heads up," a Conservative party spokesman said yesterday.

Peter Kent, a well-known former television journalist who will run for the party in the Toronto riding of St. Paul's, said the initiative is ready to go and expected to win the party some interest in Toronto, Vancouver and other urban centres.

"We would make the metro pass and GO pass tax deductible," Mr. Kent said of Toronto Transit Commission and GO Transit fares. "Basically what we're doing is addressing GTA issues of the fiscal imbalance and infrastructure."

Naturally the details aren't out yet, but I think it's a good idea, with conditions. I pay $65 a month, or nearly $800 a year, to ride the bus downtown to work. A tax deduction of this amount would be a nice chunk of change to any urban commuter.

The appeal isn't just to Toronto. A transit-rebate plan could also give the Tories a competitive hand in Bloc-dominated Quebec, particularly Montreal and Quebec City, which have major investments in mass transit infrastructure.

The theory is simple. Making transit passes tax-deductible would encourage more commuters to buy these passes, increasing ridership. Theoretically this means more revenue generation for the transit authorities at source -- they wouldn't need to pull funds from municipal general revenues to keep the system running.

The major snag in this is the transit authories themselves: if the service is poor to begin with -- things like dirty subway cars, unsafe stations, etc. -- then the plan would falter, because no amount of financial incentive will convince people to ride a rotten system. So I'd expect to see this plan to have some form of grant transfer to municipalities, to improve their transit system. Which is probably where any kerfuffles would be, because naturally the provinces would want to get involved at that point.

But like I say, it's a good idea. Sure beats making parking tickets deductible.