U of R Econ prof outlines strong case against U-Pass opponents
To the Editor,
This month, students will be making an important choice in deciding whether to accept or reject the adoption of a U-Pass in a university-wide student referendum. What I am offering to them is an economics perspective in making this choice. Due to the U-Pass program’s scale, their decision is a choice between two paths of city development. Both have their benefits and costs to transit and non-transit users alike. The current discussion in social media and the Carillon has thus far overwhelmingly focused on the benefits and costs associated with a potential Yes vote. However, little has been said regarding the cost-benefit implications of a potential No vote. To make an educated choice in their own self-interest, students should evaluate the benefits and costs related to the Yes-vote scenario as well as the No-vote scenario and choose the option with the larger net benefit to them. In addition, they need to be aware of how a No-vote outcome in 2015 could impact their budgets compared to previous No-votes in the context of Saskatchewan’s current rapid and sustained population growth.
Taking the benefits and costs of both the Yes and No outcomes into consideration, two concerned groups on campus – those who currently do not use the bus and those who will not consider transit as a transportation option under any circumstances – may not lose out by being forced to pay between $70 and $90 a semester. As paradoxical as it may sound to car users at first, they may in fact gain from this imposed cost. A rapidly growing population and an ever-increasing number of car users will indirectly cost you in at least three ways: steeper parking rate increases both on campus and throughout the city, longer commute and parking search times (the longer they are, the less time you can devote to work/study/leisure and the more you will spend on gas), and higher taxes for building infrastructure to reduce road and parking congestion (opening up extra lanes of existing roads, building tunnels/bridges to deal with bottlenecks, building underground parking sites). Therefore, car users, paying for a service you might never use (the U-Pass) may actually save you more money on the services you do use.
How would the U-Pass succeed in combating tax hikes, parking rates and commuting time? A heavily subsidized bus pass is likely to induce a sizable fraction of the student population to switch to using transit. A larger transit ridership on routes that are among the most heavily used in the city and are at times close to or at seating capacity will likely mean increased frequency on those routes. More frequent bus service in turn will sway more Reginans, including university students, to switch to transit (which happened at the U of S via the U-Pass, for example) and will also persuade many recent immigrants to continue relying on transit even if they can now afford owning a car. For that higher-ridership-expanded-service effect to work the number of residents who switch simultaneously must be sizable; hence, the need for a large-in-scale program such as the U-Pass. The cities with implemented U-Pass programs have shown a remarkable increase in transit ridership and frequent service to campus, including cities of comparable to Regina’s size such as London, ON; Metro Victoria, BC; and Saskatoon, SK. The alternative – a marginal increase on ridership driven primarily from recent immigrants – just won’t cut it. Consequently, greater transit use in a city can combat tax hikes for roads, slow down parking rate increases and improve commuting times – all of which are significant benefits for car users.
In conclusion, what I am offering is a cost-benefit analysis of both the Yes and No outcomes. Deciding which option benefits students more ultimately depends on your personalized benefits and costs. But, most importantly, the costing of these two options must take into account the context of living in a rapidly growing city that requires transportation solutions – ones that students can contribute to by making an educated choice.
Dr. Georgi Boichev
Dr. Boichev is a Post-Doctoral Fellow in the Department of Economics at the University of Regina. He specializes in the fields of Public Economics, Development Economics, Political Economics and Applied Econometrics.