City staffer Bruce Fisher presented council Tuesday with an excellent argument for changing the way the city collects taxes that pay for bus service. In essence, he suggests that the portion of the property tax be based on the proximity of a resident’s house to a bus route. (It’s a bit more complicated than that in reality.) This makes sense because whether we take the bus or not, we all benefit from the existence of transit; the regional plan projects that a decent bus system will save us $165 million in road costs---new and wider roads won’t need to be built, nor plowed---and will reduce congestion on streets and bridges, saving car drivers time and money.
Moreover, once tax is in place, we can start addressing the over-reliance on fare box revenue to fund the bus system (Halifax is one of the worst cities in North America for over-charging bus riders).
Unfortunately, the good tax idea is tied to the regressive “service-based tax” proposal, which, if adopted, will shift the tax burden off high-priced houses and onto middle-class neighbourhoods. After his presentation, Fisher told me that the bus tax could indeed be used in our present assessment-based system, but that the (misnamed) “tax reform committee” insisted on an equal per-property tax, regardless of assessments.