Airdrie City council defeated a notice of motion brought forward by Coun. Candice Kolson on April 6 that would have offered subsidized public transportation to youth in the city this summer.
The item failed with a vote of 4-3, with Couns. Darrell Belyk, Al Jones, Ron Chapman and Mayor Peter Brown in opposition.
“We had a robust discussion today with a couple of our directors and our city manager around what constitutes a subsidy,” Brown said. “What services are we going to provide on the taxpayers’ backs? I don’t know… how I can support it knowing that the pilot project wasn’t that impactful.”
According to City administration, a pilot project was passed in 2019 that offered free transit for riders aged 18 and younger. Chris MacIsaac, transit team leader with the City, said there wasn’t a high uptake at the time.
“In August , we saw a little bit of a bump toward the end of the summer as we got closer to school, but I don’t believe it was an overly subscribed program in 2019,” he said. “It could be because it was the first year, or because it operated in isolation of other programs.”
He added the last year has been a completely different experience for Airdrie Transit, due to the impacts COVID-19 and public health restrictions have had on service levels.
“We are trying to learn who our ridership is through these COVID-19 times,” he said. “I can’t honestly say whether we would see a huge uptake in the program this summer. We just don’t know where youth will be travelling [or] if they will be travelling.”
Belyk said although subsidized transit is a great initiative, with the ongoing uncertainty of COVID-19, he couldn’t support the motion to offer it as a free service to youth.
Jones echoed Belyk’s sentiments and questioned if public buses’ reduced capacities mean the initiative would further tax transit staff.
“I really don’t want to tax staff with any more challenges than what they are already facing,” he said. “I don’t think I can support it this year, although I would support it any other year.”
MacIsaac said when demand rises, transportation services tend to have to play catch up.
“When the surge of demand happens, we are typically two to three weeks behind in getting the right equipment into service to meet the needs of the general public,” he said. “I’ll be honest – there have been riders that have been left behind very unfortunately due to capacity limits being met on buses.”
In rebuttal to the number of councillors in opposition, Kolson said for every argument against the motion, there is one in favour.
“I think at a time when transit is getting hammered, why wouldn’t we try and increase our ridership and position ourselves for when things get back to normal?” she said.