Tax shuffle may help bus-riding students
By Kevin Gale
The University Students' Council's bus pass negotiations may have gotten a small boost after Tuesday's announcement that the provincial government will no longer be funding municipal transportation beginning in 1998.
The council's municipal affairs commissioner, Scott Graham, said the possibility of funding shortages for the London Transit Commission could make it easier to negotiate a flat-rate bus pass for all Western students because students would provide added revenues for LTC.
Larry Ducharme, secretary/treasurer for the commission, said a successful agreement between the USC and the commission will help offset any negative effects resulting from the funding changes. "The impact on the LTC is that we may have to raise funds get funds from the municipality," Ducharme said. "The City of London has to decide on its investment in public transit."
He added he did not expect any changes to services or fares this year. "It's business as usual for now," he said.
The Ministry of Transportation currently gives the LTC a conditional grant of $3.6 million for public transit, making up 13.5 per cent of the commission's operating budget, Ducharme said. He added this does not represent a large portion of the budget, with the majority coming from bus fares.
Anne MacLaughlin, corporate policy and communications officer for the Ministry, said each municipality has different needs for public transportation services, so it made sense to let them handle it themselves.
She added the announcement is part of the province's decision this week to take over the $5.4 billion funding for education across the province. "It's an exchange of responsibilities," she said. Municipalities will no longer have to collect education taxes from citizens but instead take over an equivalent amount of funding for social programs.
Ducharme said he has had two productive meetings with Graham and USC president Dave Tompkins about the passes, but has only been able to establish a game plan for researching the feasibility of the pass.
Graham said negotiations with the LTC are in limbo until both sides conduct a survey to find out the frequency of bus use by students.
Should the USC and LTC reach an agreement on a student bus pass before next October, a referendum would be held in conjunction with the USC byelections.