Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Photo by Steph & Adam
I received a disappointing email yesterday from a colleague pointing me to this article on transit fees in the City of Ottawa (where I currently live, work, and go to school). The article describes a recent change which makes all students 28 and older ineligible for City of Ottawa "student" transit fares. This will mean that many graduate students, medical students, and even "mature" undergraduate students will now have to pay the regular adult fare, which ads up to an extra $240/year. According to this article on the Ottawa Citizen website "Council approved the change as a way to save money and balance the budget". The city expects this change to bring in a meagre $220,000, but would cost many students more than half a month's rent over the course of a year.
The financial arguments against this move are pretty obvious. Students - be they 18 or 28 - typically have little or no income. There is absolutely no reason why a student in their 30's should have to pay a fee that a student in their early 20's does not. Whether they are in undergrad, grad school or med school, "mature" students face the same financial challenges as younger students, often more so (for example, older students are more likely to be supporting families of their own, and less likely to receive financial support from their parents). But let's move away from the financial cost, and look at the bigger picture.
Frequent readers of this blog will know that commuting by public transit is associated with increased amounts of physical activity. Earlier this year I interviewed Ugo Lachapelle, whose paper in the Journal of Public Health Policy suggested that individuals who use public transit are significantly more likely to reach the recommended amounts of daily physical activity than those who do not use public transit. From a health perspective, it's really a no-brainer - people who take public transit tend to walk more than those who don't, which should place them at a lower risk for numerous chronic diseases. That's why we have argued repeatedly here at Obesity Panacea that promoting transit use is a simple way to promote physical activity. Of relevance to this discussion, in his Journal of Public Health Policy paper, Mr Lachapelle reported that
"Having an employer-sponsored transit pass had a positive relationship with meeting the physical activity recommendation"
I would consider a student transit pass to be nearly indistinguishable from an employer-sponsored transit pass. These programs make transit use more affordable, resulting in both more transit use, and increased levels of physical activity. To me, this suggests that the opposite is also likely to be true - when the transit pass is no longer sponsored (or subsidized in this case) physical activity levels are likely to decrease. This is not to mention the numerous other benefits of transit use, including reduced pollution and less traffic for those who do drive. By increasing the fares that some students must pay, it makes it more likely that they will A) choose to forgo a post-secondary education, or B) commute by means other than public transportation, neither of which is good for the people of Ottawa.
Interestingly, in our interview here on Obesity Panacea, Mr Lachapelle made the rather prescient statement that:
"Furthermore, there seems to be a lack of political will to address the question of commuter-related taxation, such as transit passes."
This is where you come in. If you live in the City of Ottawa, you can find your city councillor by clicking here, while acting mayor Michel Bellemare's website can be found here. I strongly urge you to write to them and explain why you feel this is bad decision for the City of Ottawa and its students. If you live outside of Ottawa, please email acting mayor Bellemare directly by clicking here, and please spread the word via twitter, facebook, etc. I am writing my own letters as we speak. Feel free to post a copy of your letter in the comments section below to encourage others. Transit use and post-secondary education are simple things that we should all be promoting, and this policy does the exact opposite.
In case anyone is curious, I will not personally be hurt by this fee change - I'm 25, and with any luck I'll finish my PhD shortly after my 28th birthday :) Thanks to Stephanie Prince Ware for emailing me and many others to let us know about this issue.
Lachapelle, U., & Frank, L. (2009). Transit and Health: Mode of Transport, Employer-Sponsored Public Transit Pass Programs, and Physical Activity Journal of Public Health Policy, 30 DOI: 10.1057/jphp.2008.52
Enjoyed this story? Share it with your friends by clicking the buttons below!
To get future posts delivered directly to your email inbox or to your RSS reader, be sure to subscribe to Obesity Panacea.