My question comes out of OTAG's response to David Reevely's first post about an upcoming debate on Rogers cable (which I can't watch having cut the cable a long time ago). It is entirely appropriate to have a discussion about how we purchase public transit services. We know from garbage collection that having multiple vendors keeps everyone on their toes and negotiating in good faith. It's also possible to mix public and private operators.
But, a debate on lowering the costs of public transit isn't the same as discussing how to keep overall taxes as low as possible. For that, we need to widen the discussion to include congestion pricing on roads.
As a people we accept that public transit users should pay a fee everytime they get on a bus. We also agree cities should fund a large chunk of the costs from property taxes. Now it's time to take the next step and discuss doing the same for roads and cars.
If OTAG is at all consistent in its plea for lower taxes, it should support road-pricing. The upcoming widening of the 174 beyond Blair is a good example, but so is the 417 and perhaps even some roads through the Greenbelt. Every taxpayer in Ottawa will pay for them whether they use them or not, yet the users of those roads will not be asked to pick up a share of the costs.
That's not the model we use for public transit. It's only inertia that keeps people expecting roads to be free. They are nothing of the sort, but the costs are buried in our property tax bill, so we just keep building more of them.
An OTAG sponsored debate that includes public transportation outsourcing, but also road pricing is one I'd watch.
I suspect that shifting 5% of transportation off of roads and onto public transit would save a bucket load more money than changing a few routes to private operators. But if we keep building free roads nobody has an incentive to change how they get to work, road budgets continue to grow, and infrastructure deficits accumulate beyond reason. OTAG's current debate is on private mini buses vs. OCTranspo NewFlyers -- it's a debate about rounding errors on Ottawa's debt interest payments.
So OTAG, do you support shifting some road costs off of property taxes and onto the people who use them?