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Saanich calls for free transit for youth and seniors

After endorsing free transit for those 18 and under, council backs a motion to call on the province for free rides for seniors
Both resolutions calling for free transit will be debated at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in September. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

Saanich is going to bat on the issue of free transit for youth and seniors.

Two weeks after council ­unanimously endorsed a Union of B.C. Municipalities ­resolution to have the UBCM lobby the province to expand its Get on Board program to include all young people up to the age of 18, council added a resolution to make public transit free for seniors as well.

“Beyond affordability, free transit for seniors promotes social inclusion and fosters connections within our communities,” said Coun. Teale Phelps Bondaroff. “By breaking down transportation barriers, we empower seniors to maintain active social lives, attend gatherings, and stay connected with loved ones.”

Coun. Judy Brownoff added that many seniors are struggling to meet monthly expenses due to the rising cost of living. “All levels of government need to work together to create one free annual flexible seniors’ bus pass,” she said.

Both resolutions will be debated at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in September.

The Get on Board program, launched in September 2021 by the province in partnership with B.C. Transit and TransLink in the Lower Mainland, currently allows only those 12 and under to ride transit for free.

The Victoria Transit Riders Union applauded Saanich for raising the issue.

“I know that when we give people what they need, they use those resources to take care of themselves and take care of other people. That’s good for the health-care system, it’s good for the people — it’s cheaper and it’s better for people’s well-being,” said Liz Cronin, a member of the Victoria Transit Riders Union.

University of Victoria student Isabelle Easton told council this week that transit fares might not seem like a significant expense to some, but for others, “it means choosing between meals and getting to school, between getting to work and ­extracurricular activities for their children, or between attending a job interview and paying for rent.”

Young people age 13 to 18 who live in Victoria can ride the bus for free via a Youth U-Pass, but the city covers the cost to the tune of about $650,000 annually, which includes payment to B.C. Transit and the production of bus passes.

According to B.C. Transit, other transit systems in the province offer free transit rides for young people.

In Kitimat, transit is free for those 18 and under, while Penticton offers free rides to those under 25, Whistler has free transit for those in Grades 7 to 12 and the Sunshine Coast Regional District intends to have free transit for those 18 and under in place this fall.

In all of those cases, the municipality or regional district is covering the cost.

Oak Bay and Langford have endorsed the two UBCM resolutions for free transit.

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