Saanich Council expands free transit for youth

Transit advocate and a number of youth speak on the benefits of this resolution

a street in the District of Saanich containing a bus stop
PHOTO: Andy Nystrom / Flickr

By: Hannah Fraser, News Writer

On May 13, Saanich City Councillors voted in favour of a resolution to allow free transit for “young people up to, and including, the age of 18.” The resolution was brought forward by the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) to expand the Get On Board program, which already grants children 12 and under free access to all BC Transit and TransLink services.

Council hopes that expanding the program could yield a “wide spectrum of benefits.” These include “financial support for individuals and families, social engagement, accessibility, equity, independence, and environmental benefits.” The Peak corresponded with Dr. Teale Phelps Bondaroff, chair of Saanich’s Active Transportation Advisory Committee, for more information.

“Free transit for young people is an investment in our future,” he said. He added this will aid youth in BC in accessing “education and employment opportunities, social activities, and other essential services.” 

“When we make transit free for young people, we empower them to explore, connect, and grow independently, building a sense of confidence and autonomy while fostering a generation of life-long transit riders,” he continued. During the councillors’ meeting, ten young people and a Girl Guides unit shared what the program would mean to them as young transit takers.

According to Phelps Bondaroff, one speaker highlighted that more accessible transit would allow for better social connection among youth. Another speaker spoke about how her bus pass allowed her to get to school every day although she lived much further away. 

“When you have access to expanded transportation, you have access to so many new educational opportunities that would otherwise be unavailable to you.” 

He emphasized that making transit free for more youth would be better than implementing a means tested program, which determines if a person or household is eligible to receive some sort of benefit or payment.Studies have also “found many families had unmet needs for services or were not using services available to them” because of other barriers, such as “eligibility and documentation requirements, program structure, availability of translation services, location of services, intake procedures, and length of waiting time to apply for or receive services.”   

While the public has other concerns about transit, such as more regular service, Phelps Bondaroff explained that free transit for youth creates “lifelong transit riders” who will “demand improved bus services and also be willing to fund them.”

In addition to UBCM’s resolution to expand transit for youth, another draft resolution to make transit free for seniors over 65 has been created and will be discussed during the June 10 meeting of Saanich Council. Phelps Bondaroff expressed that the benefits of free transit for youth also apply to seniors who could also experience better connectivity in their communities through free transit.

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