VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Families who rely on transit got a break this past week when TransLink made bus rides free for kids, and one group is hoping to make this permanent.
Rides are free for kids under 12 in London, Paris and Toronto.
In September, the city of Victoria opted to make transit free for everyone under 19.
The All on Board campaign wants Metro Vancouver to follow suit. Currently, kids under 5 ride free in Metro Vancouver.
“Free transit for children and youth is really something that is catching on around the world,” says Viveca Ellis, with the campaign.
She says access to transit can make a meaningful difference in the lives of young people.
“I was inspired to start this campaign based on a teenage boy. He couldn’t join the basketball team because he couldn’t afford to go back and forth.”
The campaign is an initiative of the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition, and advocates for affordable transit for people with low-incomes.
“They just struggle–based on the fact that they live below the poverty line–they really struggle to get where they need to go every day, whether it’s the doctor or the community centre. And in the case of many, many low-income children and youth, it’s school.”
In addition to waiving fares for people under 19, Ellis says the coalition wants fares for adults to be based on income.
She points to Cranbrook, B.C. as an example of how a sliding-scale might be implemented. Like Vancouver, Cranbrook offers Leisure Access Passes, which are no-cost passes for city community centres, to people with low incomes. Ellis says in Cranbrook, transit passes are provided along with Leisure Access Passes. This streamlines the process of getting a pass and ensures that low-income people who want to use pools and recreation centres can actually get there.
As for the cost of providing free rides, Ellis says the province and the feds need to increase funding to TransLink.
“The bottom line is we can’t afford not to do it,” Ellis says. “We need to understand the extent to which a great number of people are shut out of our transit system because it’s one fixed price for all, whether you make $200,000 a year or you’re living on income assistance.”
Ellis says most people don’t understand that those who rely on income assistance are not given transit passes, adding the province does provide subsidized passes for people who are on disability assistance and offers a discount to low-income seniors.
She also highlights high fines for fare-evasion–levied at $175 a pop–as one of way transit both punishes and profits off of people who can’t afford to pay to get where they need to go. The campaign wants these tickets eliminated for minors, and alternatives to fines for adults.
The campaign has been endorsed by dozens of organizations in the Lower Mainland, including unions, advocacy groups, and school boards.