Councillor eager to bring free transit on Election Day motion back for debate at Sept. 30 meeting

Coun. Evert Botha says he’s committed to bringing back a motion that would see the city provide free transit on election days.

Botha’s motion for free bus service on all federal, municipal and provincial election days did not receive the required two-thirds necessary to be heard at the last council meeting on Sept. 9. However, Botha says he’s eager to bring the item back for another vote at the next regular council meeting on Sept. 30.

“I think anything that we could do as a city that’s within our power to get residents and eligible voters to and from the polls that’s within our means (is beneficial),” Botha said. “If we can get more residents to vote in the federal or the provincial and, probably most importantly, the municipal election everybody can be more engaged and know what’s going on.”

Botha wanted the item heard at the Sept. 9 meeting because he wasn’t aware there was another regular meeting before the election. However, several city councillors said they weren’t comfortable voting on the measure without more information.

Deputy Mayor Don Cody, one of three council members who voted against hearing the motion, said he supports free Election Day transit in theory, but wanted a closer look at the numbers before making a final decision.

“Sometimes you have things that sound very reasonable, but once you ferret them all out and do some added work on them, they don’t look quite as good,” Cody said. “We’ve got to find what the costs are going to be. We’ve got to find out if it’s feasible.”

“I think it’s only reasonable for us to allow administration to look at it for a week or so and get a report to us so we can intelligently vote on it,” he added. “That’s why I thought it wasn’t necessary to do it tonight. We still have time. I’m not saying it’s a bad idea. I think it’s a matter of timing.”

However, Botha said city council has already looked at a number of free transit day proposals for other city events, so they already should have a general idea of what it costs. He argues that the city makes the bulk of its money in monthly passes, which are already paid for, so the amount of money the city would lose is minimal.

Regardless, Botha said the loss in fares is worth it to get people to the polls.

“The cash fares that we sacrifice on any of these given days is minute, and when I say minute, in the greater scheme of things we’re talking maybe a couple of hundred to $600 in transfer fees that we don’t recover,” he said. “The impact for us is getting (residents) to vote and participate in their federal, provincial or municipal election. I think the gains there are far greater.”

Saskatchewan had one of the highest voter turnout rates in the last federal election at 71.1 per cent. It was one of only six provinces and territories to break the 70 per cent mark. In the riding of Prince Albert, which includes the communities of Nipawin, Melfort and Shellbrook, 68.5 per cent of eligible voters turned out to cast their ballots. The national average is 68.3 per cent.

In Prince Albert’s last municipal election, 38.1 per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot.