Is free public transportation an eco-friendly way to boost tourism, reduce labour shortages and encourage people to get out of the house more?
Mont-Tremblant, Que., is betting on it — riding the bus there will be free as of June 21.
The ski town in the Laurentians has fewer than 10,000 residents, making it the smallest municipality in the province with a public transit system.
Public works director Robert Davis said free buses will make it easier for people to take jobs that would otherwise be hard to get to without a car.
It also encourages people to get out of their house more and use their cars less, he added.
"It's going to help break the reclusion of people that are alone or people that are seniors," he said.
Bus fares can be too much money for some, he said, but now everybody will be "able to easily go from one place to another."
Helping people get to work, out of the house
Most jobs are at the ski resort, he explained, and people are often headed there from the town's more densely populated areas.
The free bus service will offer more mobility between the Mont-Tremblant's three urban sectors, he said, and it will give tourists who arrive by plane a way to get around.
"It's one thing to make sure that the bus is free, but you have to offer a good service also," Davis said.
Plus it's good for the environment, the town said in a statement, as a recent greenhouse gas inventory found that 86 per cent of the community's emissions were associated with transportation.
Service frequency boosted at no cost to taxpayers
One of the most common complaints is the wait time of up to two hours between buses. That is because there is usually one bus in service during low season and a couple during peak seasons, he said.
To solve that problem, Mont-Tremblant is also adding an extra bus to the route all year round.
"We will cut the waiting time in half," Davis said. "There will be a bus at every bus stop every 40 minutes."
The initiative will cost the municipality about $400,000 a year, he said.
The financial hit is worth it, he said, as was shown in Sainte-Julie, Que. where buses have been free for several years. There was a substantial jump in riders, he said, and Mont-Tremblant expects the same or even better.
"We are convinced the benefits are going to be much greater than the money we are losing by making it free," Davis said.