The Victoria Regional Transit Commission turned down on Tuesday a region-wide pilot project for fare-free youth transit, but Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said her municipality is undeterred in going ahead with its own program.
The commission voted in June to approve a City of Victoria initiative to provide free transit to residents 19 and under. Money to support the move is coming from charges for Sunday street parking, which had previously been free.
The city expects to generate $600,000 to $1 million a year from Sunday parking fees, and will pay the commission about $850,000 a year for youth bus passes, beginning this fall. That amounts to $135 per youth.
On Tuesday, Helps introduced a motion to run a region-wide test for fare-free youth transit, but it failed to pass on a tie vote.
Commission chairwoman and Saanich Coun. Susan Brice said the pilot project is “an interesting concept,” but she wasn’t prepared to support it. She said her focus is on improving bus service.
“I am so committed to ensuring that the outer regions of our jurisdiction are much better linked on transit,” she said.
“I think that is our primary mandate and anything that would forestall that, such as redirecting these funds from the fare box, to me would be worrisome.
“I don’t think this is the time to be moving away from what I would consider to be a nominal charge for fares.”
Sooke Mayor Maja Tait said she was concerned that the commission’s priorities might change due to the pilot project.
“Our local area transit-planning work started last year and is under development right now through open houses and the like.”
Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes said people tell him they need more transit service, and he doesn’t see how that can be done by taking away the revenue provided by fares.
Helps’ motion called the elimination of youth fares “a form of climate action,” along with increasing service and building bus lanes.
“This would be a pilot for how the transit commission administers fare-free transit to a certain segment of people,” she said. She proposed the pilot project for 2021-22, and wanted it to answer questions such as how much region-wide fare-free transit for youth would cost. The next step would be a referendum in the 2022 municipal election.
The fare-free issue has been attracting plenty of attention, Helps said, and inspired a 500-name petition from youth supporters.
“This is something that’s gaining momentum in the community and it’s something that’s not going to go away if we vote it down, so I hope that we will vote in favour of getting this work done and go into this with eyes wide open,” she said.