Cold Hard Wonk

No sentiment but politics

Moving Voters

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Vague Check, Gaia (Friday December 30, 2005 at 10:36 pm)

The Conservatives have released a public transit proposal, consisting of a 16% tax credit on the receipted amount spent on public transit fares. Any purchase of passes or bulk purchases of tickets would be eligible for the tax credit, the value of which would therefore vary considerably. In addition, the credit could be transferred within a given family, so that a parent could claim amounts in respect of children or a spouse. The Conservative website calculates an average value of $153 for the credit, dependent, of course, on whether commuters actually ask for receipts.

The Liberal response to this proposal has been far better than most. Naturally, there is an irrelevant shot taken at Conservative opposition to Bill C-48. C-48 was a brief bill allowing the Minister of Finance to spend part of the budget surplus. In it, $900 Million was allocated to the environment, including (but not limited to) public transit and energy-efficient upgrades to low-cost housing. The Bill gives broad discretion to the Minister in allocating those funds, and doesn’t specify what portion is going to “public transit” or what that money goes to (hopefully, they weren’t paying icebreaker prices for whatever they spent it on).

The other objections are a mixed bag:

Funding a tax credit doesn’t create new transit systems
True. The trickle-down effect from a potential increase in use (more later) is likely to be too small to justify the infrastructure costs for cities to create new systems.
No expansion of capacity in existing systems
True. No funding goes to the system, and the increase in use, again, would likely be small.
Public transit won’t become more accessible or affordable
False. If accessibility means making it easier for people to use public transit, that’s just not true. A $153 reduction in the cost is still a reduction in the cost. The Liberals might be pointing to the fact that a tax credit only shows up after income tax is paid, therefore making transit no more affordable to those who are too poor to afford it now; but that doesn’t mean that those who can afford it don’t end up spending less, neither does it mean that there aren’t many people for whom it might make a difference. Those who scrape by would find it easier to get that money back at the end of the year.
It won’t significantly increase ridership
True. People take cars either because of convenience or because they must. Most commuters who choose cars because they have to use one to get to work either can’t get to work by public transit or because there is some other compelling reason for the car. Considering the cost of a car, if it was only obtained in order to commute to work, $153 isn’t likely to make the difference between choosing the car or choosing public transit. If the driver already has the car and doesn’t have to use it to get to work, then it must be chosen for convenience’s sake. Those who choose the car for convenience, be it greater flexibility in travel times, cargo, or itineraries, aren’t likely to be moved by the credit. Convenience shows up every time you use the car — it’s more significant than a minor contribution to the car’s costs payable at year’s end.
No reduction in greenhouse gases
True. Unless the program results in a massive decrease in car use, it’s unlikely to have any effect on greenhouse gas emissions.
The program will decrease spending on greenhous gas emissions and meeting Kyoto targets
Misleading. While true, the spending targeted for redirection is money set aside to buy additional carbon credits so as to allow Canada to increase greenhouse gas emissions without the increase counting against Kyoto targets. The spending in question is an accounting remedy which shifts the benefit of underindustrialization in the third world to the first world without doing anything to actually reduce emissions.

Ultimately, there’s nothing wrong with the policy, but it isn’t a solution to either environmental woes or overreliance on automobiles. It’s purely a taxation carrot for a country still playing the hare to its own polluting tortoise.

The Conservatives have promised that future announcements will deal with the environmental impact of and funding for public transit. Once those are in, Canadians will be in a position to judge the relative benefits of each party’s offerings on this matter.

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