How feasible is providing free public transit to all kids under 18 years of age in Metro Vancouver?
There are clear benefits to such an initiative, as exposure to public transit during youth is linked to a lighter auto-centric lifestyle and a greater transit usage later in life, according to a recent study by professors at Rutgers University and Columbia University.
And this is something free transit could accomplish, which is being introduced to Seattle high school students starting this upcoming school semester. Last week, Seattle City Council unanimously passed a policy that will provide free ORCA passes – Seattle’s equivalent of the Compass Card – to high school students within its jurisdiction.
When asked whether such a program could be achieved in Metro Vancouver, TransLink spokesperson Chris Bryan said the public transit authority “is open to starting a dialogue on the idea of free transit for kids.”
But he also cautioned that there would be an immense financial burden, with TransLink estimating it would see a fare revenue loss of over $30 million annually based on current ridership levels.
“This revenue would need to be recovered in some way,” Bryan told Daily Hive. “Results from our Transit Fare Review show the public is supportive of expanding discounts and we are recommending examining whether it may be possible in the future.”
TransLink is currently nearing the end of a multi-phased study on changes to the fare structure, and a recent report outlined its proposal to abandon the three-fare zone system and start a new distance-travelled fare system for SkyTrain and SeaBus. After the implementation of the initial changes in 2019/2020, the public transit authority noted that it could look into introducing discounts for children, youth, and low-income residents if subsidy funding is provided by senior governments.
Currently, TransLink’s concession fares (for children ages 5 to 18, and seniors 65 and older) with a Compass Card discount are $1.90 for one-zone, $2.90 for two-zone, and $3.90 for three-zone. The monthly concession pass is a flat rate of $54 per month, and it covers all three zones.
Free transit is provided to kids up to the age of 18 one week per year in the fall as part of TransLink’s annual I Love Transit Week.