Coun. Jean Swanson wants the City of Vancouver to support free transit for children and youths up to 18 years of age.
Council members will consider her motion Tuesday to draft a letter to regional officials in support of more equitable transit fares including a sliding scale for low-income residents.
Swanson said Monday that her No. 1 reason for supporting a campaign started by #AllOnBoard last year is to increase safety for youths and adults.
She said people can sometimes get stuck if they don’t have bus fare and have to walk home or take “rides with people they don’t know. That’s not safe.”
She also supports free transit to increase accessibility to the city’s amenities. She estimated it would cost a family of five in east Vancouver $20 bus fare to ride to beaches on the west side of the city.
“That’s ridiculous,” she said.
“It means a huge proportion of people in our city just can’t enjoy parts of the city that other people that have more money can enjoy.”
Swanson also believes that lower bus fares and improved transit service means fewer trips by car which will help reduce global warming.
Swanson said she’s had nothing but “positive feedback” about her motion.
She doesn’t have any estimate on costs, she said, because this is a first step in figuring out how to create a more equitable transit system.
“It is to ask the regional bodies in control of this to come up with a plan and source of funding,” she said.
“Some of the technical details still have to be worked out.”
The #AllOnBoard campaign by the B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition has already been endorsed by Port Moody and New Westminster.
Jill Drews, senior issues management advisor for TransLink, said the organization is working with government officials to explore what it might mean to bring in free fares for younger riders.
TransLink doesn’t know how many riders under 18 it has because it doesn’t track ridership by age, she said.
“What we have seen in other jurisdictions that have opened up fare free transit for youths, they’ve had a big increase in ridership,” Drews said.
Drews said the cost of introducing free fares for youths “would be in the tens of millions a year” but had no specific details on the amount.
“We’re doing some modelling and looking at how we can quantify that better,” she said.
Viveca Ellis, who is coordinating the #AllOnBoard campaign, said transit should have much more public funding so access is as equitable as health care and education.
“Given our provincial commitment to reducing poverty, we need the mayors’ council and Metro Vancouver to discover the impact of mobility and lack of affordability on all citizens,” said Ellis, leadership development coordinator for the B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition.
“We’re expecting the provincial government to step up and provide the financial support to make it happen to implement these necessary measures.”
In Metro Vancouver, a maximum of four children under five can ride on TransLink for free when accompanied by a passenger with proof of payment; children aged five to 18 pay $1.90 concession or $1.85 with a Compass Card in one zone.
Last year, Seattle city council voted to spend $7 million ($9.1 million Cdn.) to provide free bus service to 16,000 high school students. Seattle is now the largest city in the U.S. to provide free, year-round transit for high school students.
In Toronto, students 12 and under ride for free.
Calgary Transit addresses poverty in its sliding-scale fares based on income. A low-income monthly pass ranges from $5.30 for a single person household earning $12,699 or less to $53 a month for a household of seven people earning $56,997 to $67,055.
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