City of Powell River councillors will be examining the prospect of providing free transit to youth in Powell River.
At the committee of the whole meeting on Tuesday, November 5, councillor CaroleAnn Leishman said Powell River Youth Council had made a recommendation that the city provide free public transit services for all students 18 years of age and under within the qathet Regional District area. She said councillors at a previous meeting suggested the youth council discuss the recommendation with the Students for Change group at Brooks Secondary School.
“They just had a meeting and the suggestion from there was to try and get the youth go to the next board of education meeting,” said Leishman.
Since the board meeting was at the same time as the youth council meeting, Leishman said Students for Change were trying to get on the agenda. She said they do support the recommendation regarding free public transit services.
Leishman said in discussions with the youth council, there is a little bit of frustration with the process regarding how long things could potentially take.
“This is something we’ve been talking about for a long time,” she added. “We are always brainstorming ways to make our transit more accessible for more members of the community.
“We should be considering doing a one-year pilot project for 2020 to provide free transit for students 18 and under.”
Because the rates for students, seniors and adults are the same, Leishman said transit cannot quantify how much the usage by students alone is. She said City of Victoria is providing free transit for students, and the lower Sunshine Coast is considering it as well.
“For January 2020, we should do a one-year pilot of free transit for youth,” said Leishman. “We are already subsidizing transit to a high degree, so at the end of that year, we could see, did we spend more money? I don’t think we are going to see that much revenue loss.”
At the end of the year, the city would have good data, she added.
Leishman said that while the students are talking to the board of education to see if there is any incentive there, she wanted to make a motion that council provide free transit to all youth 18 years and younger within the city and mainland region for a one-year pilot project starting January 2020, and direct staff to notify BC Transit of the change to the fare schedule effective January 2020. The motion was seconded.
Leishman said her idea was to send the matter to city council in two weeks to get any more information that might be required.
“A pilot is not really committing us beyond that one year,” said Leishman. “It is putting us on the map in terms of providing better transportation for our youth, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and trying to get those youth out of their cars. Parents will not have to drive because more parents are more likely to say ‘okay, take the bus.’ I just think it could do a lot of good in one year.”
City director of infrastructure Tor Birtig said he received information from the finance department with regard to passes the city has sold. The student monthly passes, in 2017, amounted to approximately $55,000 and in the year from November 1, 2018 to October 31 of this year, the figure was approximately $69,000. Birtig said that does not include cash fares.
“That number, when we are talking about student contributions, is probably getting close to $100,000,” said Birtig. “I might add we have engaged with BC Transit to do a review, to provide us with better numbers with respect to not only free student passes, but what free passes for all would cost the city. We are collecting that information.”
Leishman asked how much the city subsidizes transit currently and Birtig said the figure is about $1.5 million, and there is a 50 per cent cost-sharing agreement between BC Transit and the city. The city keeps any revenue collected from bus ridership.
Birtig said the city is subsidizing the transit system to the tune of about $400,000 per year.
Committee chair George Doubt said he was in favour of free transportation for students where the city has jurisdiction. Before jumping into it, however, he said he would like to know what the cost is.
“I’m in favour of free transportation for students and I’m in favour overall of looking at providing free transit because I think it would be an environmentally positive thing to do and a good social thing for us to do,” said Doubt. “I wouldn’t do that without knowing how much it was precisely going to cost.
“The other problem I have is getting into regional district jurisdiction. Paratransit is operated in partnership with BC Transit and the regional district is a separate operation. I’m worried about getting into the jurisdictional question. I’m trying to display my discomfort with going too quickly on something that overall, I’m in favour of. I don’t want to support this motion but I don’t want to be against the concept overall.”
After further discussion, the committee of the whole voted to refer the matter to the city’s finance committee.