Master of Arts
In recent years there has been a surge in support for free public transit across Canada. This thesis tracks the rapid changes to the free public transit movement through content analysis and interviewing activists at the centre of the struggle. I find that people come to free public transit organizing to address poverty, reduce emissions, end police violence, and create a safer workspace. With the increase in support for free public transit, it has become a policy supported in one way or another by politicians across the political spectrum. I argue that in order for free public transit to address poverty, reduce emissions, end police violence, and create safer workspaces, free public transit must move beyond demands for free publicly owned transit and move towards demands for free publicly controlled transit under the framework of the right to the city.
Summary for Lay Audience
During the 2018 Ontario municipal elections, Councillor Shawn Menard was elected to Ottawa City Council with free public transit as a central campaign plank. In April, 2019, Victoria, B.C., became the first major Canadian city to endorse free public transit and a few months later the Federal New Democratic Party included free public transit in their federal campaign platform. During the summer of 2019, Mont-Tremblant, Quebec, and Canmore, Alberta, made their local transit systems free. In a matter of months, free public transit had come front and centre in Canadian political discourse. While the increase in support for free public transit caught many off guard, there is a long history of movements pushing for free public transit in Canada dating back to the 1970s.
This work examines the rise of free public transit in Canada. It engages with community organizers, union activists, and politicians who are fighting for free public transit and examines the challenges that they face. I find that while free public transit may appear to be a radical left wing demand, it is supported in various different forms by people across the political spectrum. As a result, while people may think they are pushing to radically change the capitalist system in which we live, they may be reinforcing it. I argue in order for left-wing activists to address issues such as poverty, environmental degradation, police violence, and unsafe workspaces, we must utilize Henri Lefebvre’s right to the city. We must fight for free publicly controlled transit. It is only through the people controlling public transit and making it free that we can begin to recreate our public transit to address poverty, environmental degradation, police violence, and unsafe workspace.
Vangeest, Ari, "Free Public Transit and the Right to the City" (2020). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 7408.