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Saanich pushes for free transit for those 18 and younger

Council is urging the province to expand the current program that provides free rides for those 12 and under
The province launched the Get on Board program in September 2021 in partnership with TransLink and B.C. Transit, but it only offers free rides for those 12 and under. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

The District of Saanich wants the province to expand its free bus rides for kids program to include those age 13 to 18.

Saanich council voted unanimously to have Mayor Dean Murdock write to both B.C. Transit and the Ministry of Transportation and 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.

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.

Murdock said expanding it to those 18 and under would make riding the bus more attractive for teens.

“If it’s free for youth 18 and under or 16 and under to hop on the bus, they’d be more likely to do that,” he said. “And we’re helping reinforce that public transit is a viable option for getting around.”

Council noted that increasing bus ridership is good for the environment and scrapping the fare for kids eliminates a barrier for lower-income families.

“The cost of transportation is significant and it’s particularly significant for young people,” said Coun. Teale Phelps Bondaroff. “We need to be developing systems that encourage transit. And I see this as being part of a broader strategy to do that.”

The letter is likely to be warmly received by B.C. Transit, whose mandate is to grow its ridership, but the stumbling block could be the province, which would have to foot the bill.

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.

But Coun. Karen Harper noted that what Saanich is looking for is a regional program paid for by the province.

“The province is really the group that needs to step up to the plate to provide the funding for it,” she said.

“Anything we can do to make it easier for people to use transit, I think is important. And absolutely once you get into the habit of doing something, you keep on doing it.

“This is a habit that’s important to establish.”

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