Tag Archives: gimmicks

Family transit fares don’t make sense

St. Laurent’s Alan DeSousa wants the STM to introduce “family” fares, which would supposedly give group discounts if a household buys multiple transit passes. He says his borough offers family prices for leisure activities, and we need to get more cars off the road.

DeSousa isn’t specific about what he means by family fares. It could be discounts (or tax rebates) when buying monthly passes, or it could be discounts when travelling as a group.

Here’s the thing with the latter option:

  • Leisure activities tend to be done as families, because families spend their leisure time together. Public transit tends to be the opposite: Everyone headed in different directions at different times. How often do you board a bus with two or more members of your immediate family at the same time?
  • Even the most fervent public transit supporters will concede that family activities will almost always require use of a car, if only to transport all the food, diapers and other supplies they need to take with them.
  • How do you enforce such a thing? I’ve gone to Ottawa and travelled on their “family” fare with a female friend, pretending she was my wife. The drivers there don’t care, it’s not like they’re going to ask for a marriage certificate. So it really comes down to a group discount, usually for two adults and up to two or three children. And why should group discounts be limited to families?
  • Families travelling together is hardly the most pressing need environmentally. In fact, environmental policies encourage carpooling. What we need to get off the roads are people who drive alone to work during rush-hour, not the family carload heading to the amusement park.

The other option (giving families discounts for buying monthly passes) has its own problems:

  • We already get a federal tax break for buying transit passes.
  • Once again: Why is this treated differently from any other form of group discount? Certainly others, like offering a discount for someone who buys a transit pass for 12 consecutive months, would be more popular and more successful.
  • It increases paperwork, which benefits accountants and civil servants more than it does anyone else. This is especially true if families have to prove relationships before they can get the discount.
  • Unless more people start buying passes as a result, this would decrease revenue for the STM, requiring either more cash from the city, reduced services or higher fares for everyone else.
  • There’s no direct link between number of people in a household and ability to pay for public transit. There are plenty of poor people without families (indeed, for many of them that tends to be why they’re poor in the first place), and plenty of rich people with families (where mommy and daddy both have their cars and drive them to work, coming up with some flimsy excuse why they can’t take public transit).

It’s a gimmick, and I doubt it’s going to do anything to help public transit. Instead, more buses, lower fares and more investment in things like reserved bus lanes will bring people out of their cars. It’s boring, but it works.

Air Farce Live: A gimmick won’t magically increase ratings

I just finished watching the premiere of Air Farce Live on CBC. The umpteen-year-old show, which has been sagging in the ratings these past few years because it’s a Friday-night show and it’s not funny, came up with the idea of doing it live as a gimmick. It worked for me, at least this first night.

The first episode had a bit too much “hey look at us we’re live now!” moments, which should hopefully disappear by next week. There were also three pre-packaged segments, which is a lot for a supposedly live half-hour show. And it became clear through the first few sketches that actors wouldn’t appear in consecutive segments, which will mean fewer actors in each.

I used to be a big fan of the Royal Canadian Air Farce as a kid. I had fond memories of the Chicken Cannon, which now seems to have been retired. But the jokes were too obvious, too immature, compared to the more nuanced ones of shows like This Hour Has 22 Minutes. By the time I got a high-school diploma, I stopped watching.

After a few years away, not much has changed. There’s new faces, and the old faces are a bit greyer (and in the case of Don Ferguson, balder), but the jokes are still the same. I laughed only a couple of times, mostly during a strange, Weekend-Updateish rapid-fire news segment with some guy in front of a laptop. (The joke, after one about Brian Mulroney’s massive book of memoirs: “Kim Campbell is planning to release her memoirs in a pamphlet later this year.”)

The Air Farce will always have its audience. And even if it doesn’t, the CBC’s commitment to Canadian content will probably keep it on life support for many years. But the idea of making it “live” seems like little more than a gimmick shark-jump to try and jump-start sagging ratings. Unless it’s matched by better writing (or some unpredictability that you can only get when live) it’s just not going to work.