Free transit OK’d for youth living in Victoria, starts in September

If you’re 18 or under and live in the city of Victoria, you’ll be able to ride the bus for free starting this September. The Victoria Regional Transit Commission voted Tuesday to approve a City of Victoria motion to provide free transit for all youth who live at an address in the city.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said the goal is to create lifelong transit users and make life more affordable for families. A monthly youth pass costs $45, adding up to $540 in a year. “I’ve heard from a lot of kids that having a free bus pass means having the freedom to move,” she said.

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Helps hopes that youth who are encouraged to ride transit will, in turn, encourage their parents to leave the car at home and take the bus. “When recycling came in, the people who invented the blue box, the first place they went to was schools to teach kids what could go in there, and kids went home and taught their parents,” Helps said. “Kids will know how to take the bus. They’ll feel like the bus is theirs.”

Providing free transit for youth without raising property taxes was part of Helps’s platform when she campaigned for re-election last fall. On May 1, the city began charging for parking downtown on Sundays to subsidize youth bus passes. Helps said the city expects to collect $600,000 to $1 million a year by charging for Sunday parking. From that revenue, the city will pay about $850,000 — $135 per youth — to the regional transit commission for subsidized youth bus passes.

The commission heard from several speakers on Tuesday who advocated for free transit for everyone as a way to combat climate change.

More than half of all greenhouse-gas emissions created in the community are a result of transportation, according to the Capital Regional District, and a 2017 study conducted for the CRD by market researcher Malatest found that about 70 per cent of all daily trips in the region take place in a vehicle.

The commission directed B.C. Transit staff to look into the financial implications of eliminating fares across the region for those 18 and under.

Caleigh Aalders, a University of Victoria environmental studies student, said approving free transit for youth in Victoria is a promising step in addressing climate change. “I think it really encourages behaviour toward using transit,” she said.

Victoria resident David Stott, who called for free transit for all, said he addressed the commission because he feels climate change is “do or die.” “As a member of the older generation, I don’t want to go to my grave thinking that I did nothing,” he said.

Oak Bay Mayor Kevin Murdoch said the focus shouldn’t just be on eliminating fares but on other steps to encourage transit use, such as increasing bus frequency and range of service. “You have to make bus service palatable,” he said.

regan-elliott@timescolonist.com

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