No free buses on election day
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Jun 03, 2014  |  Vote 0    0

No free buses on election day

Stratford Gazette

Jeff Heuchert

The city will not provide free transportation for residents wishing to vote on June 12 or any other upcoming election day.

When debated last week, councillors almost unanimously rejected the idea. They scoffed at the $3,000 the city would lose in transit revenue over the day from offering buses to polling stations, and noted political parties already offer a similar service through their local constituency offices. Staff were not recommending the city provide the free service.

"In elections, provincial and federal, candidates will pick you up, bring you to the polling station and taken you home," noted Coun. Martin Ritsma.

"I think we should just stick to the recommendation … and save the citizens of this city $3,000 because they can get a free ride anyways," added Coun. Keith Culliton.

The most vocal proponent for the proposal was Coun. Bonnie Henderson, who noted there are many people who do not want to be picked up by volunteers from a political party because they do not want others knowing how they intend to vote, or are not comfortable taking a ride with someone they don't know. She put forward a motion to have the city offer free buses during next week's provincial election as a trial run but received no support from her colleagues.

Responding to one of her concerns, Coun. Howard Famme noted he has provided rides to the polls in past elections and "I suspect they didn't all vote the way I thought they should."

The rejected proposal was made by Elizabeth Anderson, community action coordinator at the Local Community Food Centre, at the community services subcommittee last month. She suggested free buses would be one way to help curb poor voter turnout in recent elections.

In a follow-up letter to councillors, Anderson also noted free public transportation would remove a "barrier" preventing people who are low-income or on Ontario Works, Ontario Disability Support, or working for minimum wage from participating in the democratic process.

"Asking people who are simply worried about surviving to spend up to 40 minutes each way on the bus to the polling station, as well as $5.50, to go and take part in a system that doesn't meet their needs is a lot to ask," she wrote.

The city also received some letters from people who took exception to Coun. Famme's earlier use of the the word "waste" when talking about  providing free transit for elections.

"It is never a waste to encourage and enable voters to take part in the democratic process," wrote Ruth Barrett. "Economics and lack of transportation options should never, ever be a barrier."

Noah Patterson said the municipality has an obligation to assist citizens with getting to polling stations.

"It may not be a legal obligation, but a moral one, especially given our declining voter turnout."

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