FREE RIDES FOR SE­NIORS? NEXT STOP: SILLINESS

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If tech mag­nate Terry Matthews cared to hop the No. 64 bus from his Brook­street Ho­tel to his Wes­ley Clover sta­bles, he’d pay less for the OC Transpo trip than a part-time Wal­mart clerk does to get to and from work.The fact he’s 75 mat­ters more than his bil­lions, a loopy sit­u­a­tion that Jim Wat­son pro­poses to worsen with more free tran­sit for se­nior cit­i­zens.The pledge is just tossed into Wat­son’s lat­est (and prob­a­bly last) set of elec­tion prom­ises: “Pro­vide no-charge tran­sit ser­vice to se­niors on Sun­days, in ad­di­tion to Wed­nes­days.” There’s no ra­tio­nale or ex­pla­na­tion.OC Transpo al­ready has dis­count fares for se­niors.At $44.50, a monthly pass costs al­most two-thirds less than the $116.50 a stan­dard adult pass does. Only the pass for peo­ple on govern­ment dis­abil­ity sup­port is cheaper, and only by $1.25 a month. This is just a taste of how ro­coco the fare ta­ble is.Cash and Presto ac­count fares for se­niors are about one-third off. Wed­nes­days are al­ready free-ride days, which the city es­ti­mates costs $1 mil­lion a year. That started with free rides for se­niors only on Wed­nes­day morn­ings, so the trend is for the city to keep ex­pand­ing it.Mean­while, OC Transpo frets about ex­pand­ing ser­vice be­cause it’s con­stantly skint.Clive Doucet, Wat­son’s strong­est chal­lenger for mayor, of­fers lit­tle protest on OC Transpo’s fare ta­ble. He wants cheaper tran­sit gen­er­ally, but also more free-ride times for se­niors.We struc­ture some so­cial pro­grams for uni­ver­sal­ity, like health care, or near-uni­ver­sal­ity, like Old Age Se­cu­rity. We don’t struc­ture tran­sit that way. We slice and dice the fare sched­ule to help cer­tain groups and, in con­se­quence, hin­der oth­ers. In this case, we treat se­niors as if they’re all poverty-stricken, re­ly­ing on their chil­dren to keep them out of penury dur­ing the few years they have be­tween work­ing and limp­ing into the grave.“Se­nior” isn’t a syn­onym for “poor” and hasn’t been for gen­er­a­tions.You can cut the num­bers a bunch of ways, but no mat­ter how you do it, se­niors are ei­ther the wealth­i­est or sec­ond-wealth­i­est gen­er­a­tion in Canada. One Sta­tis­tics Canada mea­sure in 2016 found that “se­nior fam­i­lies” had a me­dian net worth of $762,900, com­pared to $407,100 for all non-se­nior fam­i­lies. No sub­cat­e­gory of non-se­nior fam­i­lies, in­clud­ing dou­ble-in­comeno-kids cou­ples, came close to se­nior fam­i­lies’ wealth.Solo se­niors had a me­dian net worth of $277,000; solo non­se­niors had $37,700.Mea­sured a dif­fer­ent way, by the age of a fam­ily’s main in­come-earner, house­holds where there’s some­one 65 or older are sec­ond in wealth to house­holds where it’s some­one aged 55 to 64.A lot of that se­nior wealth isn’t su­per-liq­uid, of course: it’s in real es­tate and pen­sion funds. It’s still wealth, and it dwarfs that of any other gen­er­a­tion. And se­niors’ num­bers are grow­ing, es­pe­cially rel­a­tive to the rest of the pop­u­la­tion.If we want to fo­cus on in­come, se­nior fam­i­lies do make less in a year than non-se­nior fam­i­lies ($57,500 at the me­dian ver­sus $82,600, both af­ter tax), but still plenty more than lone-par­ent fam­i­lies and sin­gles. Se­nior fam­i­lies’ me­dian in­come has also grown faster than that of other types of fam­i­lies, so rel­a­tively speak­ing, they’re get­ting ahead, not fall­ing be­hind.The point here isn’t that all se­niors are rich. They aren’t, any more than all yup­pies or DINKs are. The point is that the faulty stereo­type that se­niors are poor takes us to some odd places.Con­sider that there’s no cu­trate pass if you’re a sin­gle par­ent jug­gling two jobs, or if you’ve been laid off so you and your spouse are work­ing for min­i­mum wage and you’re try­ing to up­grade your skills with part­time cour­ses at Al­go­nquin.OC Transpo does have its “EquiPass,” aimed at tran­sit users with in­comes be­low the fed­eral low-in­come cut-off, which is $39,100 for a fam­ily of four. At $58.25 a month, even the poverty pass costs more than a se­nior’s pass.And a house­hold with two min­i­mum-wage-earn­ing adults wouldn’t be el­i­gi­ble.Also bizarrely, we price tran­sit more ex­pen­sively than driv­ing a car, even though the so­cial costs of driv­ing are much higher. If you want to get down­town out­side of busi­ness hours, you can park for noth­ing in the garage un­der city hall to com­pen­sate you for the in­con­ve­nience of the re­con­struc­tion work on El­gin Street. There’s no dis­count on bus fares for get­ting to the same des­ti­na­tion. If you’re pay­ing cash, that trip out and back will still run you $7 for each adult and teen, ver­sus a few cents you’d pay in taxes on the gaso­line you’d burn by driv­ing. (The Presto fare’s just 10 cents less per per­son; the city started out with no­tably dis­counted Presto fares to get riders off tick­ets, then jacked them up.) If you could drive, you’d be crazy to take OC Transpo for that trip.Wat­son scoffs at coun­cil can­di­dates who talk about free tran­sit for ev­ery­one. That would mean $200 mil­lion in lost rev­enue if ev­ery­thing else stayed the same, which of course ev­ery­thing wouldn’t: de­mand for ser­vice would go way up, though de­mand for roads and park­ing and traf­fic polic­ing would doubt­less fall. It’s hard to guess how ev­ery­thing would shake out.But even that would make more sense than giv­ing the steep­est dis­counted tran­sit ser­vice to a cat­e­gory of riders who don’t need it, and work­ing to­ward waiv­ing even that. [email protected]­media.com twit­ter.com/davidreevely

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