Council defeats motion to provide free transit on Election Day

A newly purchased city bus sits on display in Memorial Square in this file photo taken in January 2018. -- Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald

There will be no free bus service on Election Day after Prince Albert city council defeated a motion to provide free transit on Oct. 21 by a 6-3 margin.

Ward 3 Coun. Evert Botha, who brought the proposal forward at the Sept. 9 council meeting, said he was saddened by the results, but accepted council’s decision.

“It is what it is,” Botha said when contacted on Tuesday. “I think it would be great if we could offer that sort of service, but my colleagues seem to not agree with me, and I’ll go with that.”

Botha’s proposal called for free bus service on any election day, be it federal, provincial or municipal. He argued it would increase voter turnout, while giving people who wouldn’t normally take the bus a chance to see just how clean, warm and efficient they were.

He also pointed out that Prince Albert has provided free bus service during past events, like Culture Days.

“I think it’s a very reasonable request,” Botha said during Monday’s city council meeting. “I believe, based on the feedback that I’ve received from many residents, and that I’ve read online, that this is something that will hopefully get people to the polls.”

Those arguments weren’t enough to convince the majority of council. Mayor Greg Dionne and Ward 5 Coun. Dennis Ogrodnick were the most vocal opponent of the proposal.

Dionne said the provincial or federal governments subsidize most free transit days, like Ding in the New Year, which provides free bus service on New Year’s Eve. Lost revenue wasn’t a major concern, he added. Instead, he said the initiative should come from other levels of government, not the City of Prince Albert.

“I believe that if the federal government or provincial government wants free transportation, they’ll ask for that Canada-wide,” Dionne said. “They won’t just come to Prince Albert. They’ll ask for it Canada-wide to help get the voters out.”

“If it was a Canada-wide program well then, hey, you’d be silly not to be on board,” he added. “But, I just can’t see the benefit to us by funding that. I know we fund our own municipal election and that will be coming next year for our consideration again, but the other two I do not support.”

Ogrodnick argued that free bus service was unnecessary because campaign offices already provided services to get voters to the polls. He also said Elections Canada has made it easier to vote without going to the polls with things like main-in-ballots.

“When we talk about increasing voter ability to vote, Elections Canada has done that,” he said. “They’re trying to make elections better and (increase) voter turnout by doing all these things. Providing free bus service? I don’t think it’s going to do it.”

Ogrodnick added that he would rather see council lobby for more polling stations in Prince Albert rather than provide free bus service.

Botha responded that he was open to other proposals for getting more voters to the polls, and encouraged his fellow councillors to bring forward a Notice of Motion to make them happen.

Providing free transit would have cost the city between $700 and $1,200 each election day, according to city administrators. However, they also said it wasn’t easy to nail down the exact cost.

“It’s very, very difficult to predict how much would be lost on that day,” Public Works Director Wes Hicks said. “(It) depends on how many people would choose to ride for free who would otherwise have paid. It’s somewhere in that ($700 to $1,200) range.”

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