Transit service would have to avoid old pitfalls

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To the editor,
I’ve seen a couple of recent letters in the local papers from Lloyd MacKay and Arthur Sinclair.

Lloyd provides a reason or two why he thinks amalgamation would be good for the county and also feels we need a transit system. It might be good sometime to gather all the reasons for and against amalgamation to see them listed side by side. I’ve always viewed strong communities to be like ecosystems where the community thrives because its different parts work together in mutual support of each other thus producing the synergy to power and sustain the whole. I’ve hesitated to support amalgamation for Pictou County because I’ve never seen or experienced that strong spirit of mutual support. Arthur’s letter I think speaks well to the good municipal leaders we have but that lack of mutual support they share.

But no matter how one feels, I think we all should agree that a public transit system would be a good thing and absolutely essential to make amalgamation work. Lloyd speaks about the old transit system we once had. I remember it well. At the time, I was a Pictou town councillor and also managed the Canada Employment Centre where that transit bus would stop. I recall how often that bus would pull into Pictou with no passengers and leave with the same number. I recall that people from Pictou could take the afternoon bus to shop in an upper town mall but the next bus home was the next morning. Go figure!

At that time, when Pictou people without cars went out, they wanted to go to and from work, various places to shop, or for recreation, to visit seniors, for medical appointments or just across town to visit a friend or relative. But the transit service did not take them to these locations.

As a town councillor, I saw that the transit was not attracting many Pictou riders, that it did not take folks where they wanted to go and that it was only able to survive in this way by being subsidized by all the towns and in a manner that ran counter to a basic rule of taxation.

That basic taxation rule is quite simple: people taxes should support people; property taxes should support property; commercial tax should support business; highway tax, highways; school tax, schools. That transit service was being run (rather poorly) as a people service while being kept alive by our municipalities using our property tax. I saw that as a mistake. 

It’s not that I do not believe in a municipal transit system. I absolutely do. I believe those who use and benefit from a transit system are those who should pay for it. I believe people will pay reasonable fares for transit if it takes them where they want to go and that our social services should support transit for those who cannot afford to pay reasonable fares. I believe that transit system buses and local retail and business can and should be mutually supportive of each other by supportive funding from the business communities in each town in return for transit buses bringing customers to their business areas and being a low-cost place where they can advertise their wares and services. Except in regard to those mentioned who cannot afford to pay reasonable fares, I do not believe town taxes should go to support transit.

Ralph Ferguson

Pictou

Organizations: Canada Employment Centre

Geographic location: Pictou County

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