Students’ commute to, from and around campus is projected to see changes in the near future.

The 2017 Liberal federal budget was released on Wednesday and  focused on the improvement of Canada’s public transit systems as well as municipal taxi and ride-sharing services.

With aims to better assist student commute and pedestrian safety, the expansion of London’s public transit system is still in the planning stages at city council. Recently, there has been ongoing debate on the possibility of alternative bus rapid transit routes.

The funding is meant for all public transit systems across Canada, not specifically London; but London's ward 6 councillor Phil Squire thinks positively about this investment.

"It continues to indicate that our project matches up with the investments that they want to make," said Squire. "We've been assured by our MPs that that is the case."

Jamie Cleary, University Students’ Council vice-president, also is glad that the Canadian government has recognized the need for investment into transit.

"We were hoping for some infrastructure money for transit projects and I think London will align quite well with the rapid transit project," said Cleary. "I think that the city will have some work to do in moving forward to see how they can align with the investment … I think that gives rapid transit here in London a very good opportunity."

To support the next development stage of new public transit system, the 2017 budget is set to invest $20.1 billion into public transit projects over the course of 11 years.

The federal government will be working alongside provinces and territories in order to determine the appropriate allotment of funds. Proper partitioning of funding to each province and territory will be 70 per cent based on ridership and 30 per cent based on population.

"In the last year and a half, 744 public transit projects have been approved and are creating good, well-paying jobs for Canadians," said finance minister Bill Morneau in his speech in the House of Commons. 

The budget is also proposing to eliminate the public transit tax credit, which may impact ridership. However, Squire does not believe that this will have a direct impact in London.

"For people of lower income, starting in 2018, we're going to be reducing the past rate from about $90 down to about $52," explained Squire. "So I think that is going to be substantial enough to help any increases in that area."

Asides for public transit, the budget also outlined tax excises on ride-sharing services.

The federal government stated that the definition of a taxi business will be modified to include ride-sharing services, such as Uber.

"In this regard, it is proposed that the GST/HST definition of a taxi business be amended to include persons engaged in a business of transporting passengers for fares by motor vehicle within a municipality and its environs where the transportation is arranged for or coordinated through an electronic platform or system, such as a mobile application or website," reads the federal budget.

This amendment will be effective as of Canada Day 2017, which would cause passengers using ride-sharing services to be charged tax on their fares.

Cleary acknowledged that it is unfortunate that there will be a tax when students choose to take an Uber. However, he also adds that for a short Uber ride, the overall fare increase may be minimal.

"I think it’s important that we look into what other transit methods students can take," continued Cleary. "Recently, we did have Uber pass within the city of London so I think it will be interesting to see how the tax is going to affect students and if they’re still wanting to use that as a transportation method or if they’re looking into others."

Although he is uncertain of whether students will change their minds about taking Uber, Cleary thinks that the budget’s investment on rapid transit alone will translate into alternative means of transportation within London.

On the other hand, Squire believes that the Uber tax is a matter of fairness — if city taxis get taxed, then it's only fair that ride-sharing services get the same treatment.

"We never had any indication from them to date that that was an area that they were concerned about," said Squire. "They were more concerned about the higher costs, like putting cameras in vehicles."

Squire firmly stated that he doesn't expect any problems with Uber surrounding the ride-sharing tax and that it is unlikely that it would affect Uber services in London. 


Grace is a news editor for volume 111 at the Gazette. She is a fourth-year neuroscience student minoring in French studies. If you want to reach Grace, email her at grace@westerngazette.ca

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