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Saanich council backs motion calling for free transit for teens

The district wants the UBCM to lobby the province to expand its Get on Board program to include everyone up to the age of 18
Young riders get on a BC Transit bus on McKenzie Avenue. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

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

On Monday night, Saanich 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 kids up to the age of 18.

A second draft UBCM resolution, to make public transit free for seniors, was postponed until a later council meeting.

“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,” said Coun. Teale Phelps Bondaroff, adding it’s a step in the right direction for a province striving to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Several young Saanich residents implored council to endorse the motion Monday night.

The motion comes a week after Saanich Mayor Dean Murdock wrote to both B.C. Transit and the Ministry of Transportation to ask that the Get on Board program, which allows kids 12 and under to ride transit and Handydart for free, be extended to those 18 and under.

Murdock said he has not yet heard back from the province.

“This is Saanich council sending a message that we think this is a provincial conversation and needs to be something that’s offered to residents across the province,” Murdock said.

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

“Expanded fare-free transit is a crucial stepping stone on the path that we must take to combat climate change and environmental degradation,” said Nathan Bird, a member of the group.

Christina Clemente, chair of the VTRU, added: “B.C. Transit is telling us to choose between improved service and low fares, and we don’t think we have to make that choice.”

The province launched the Get on Board program in September 2021 in partnership with B.C. Transit and TransLink in the Lower Mainland. At the time, it called it the first provincewide program of its kind in Canada.

Currently, kids age 13 to 18 who live in the City of 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.

Jamie Weiss, B.C. Transit’s senior media relations advisor, noted 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 7-12 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.

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