The provincial government has released the details of how children aged 12 and under can access free public transit starting on September 1, 2021.
This permanent free transit initiative applies to all TransLink and BC Transit services, fulfilling the BC NDP’s campaign platform promise from the Fall 2020 provincial election.
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“Free transit for children 12 and under makes life more affordable for families,” said Premier John Horgan in a statement.
“Taking public transit is a great choice. It offers a cleaner, low-carbon way of getting around that works for people, communities and the environment. The ‘Get on Board’ program will also encourage a new generation of transit riders.”
But there is a caveat to this policy, as children 12 and under using fare-gated services such as SkyTrain, SeaBus, and West Coast Express will still need to purchase a fare to tap through the gates.
Children in this age group will be able to access these fare-gated services when they are accompanied by a fare-paying passenger. Each accompanying fare-paying passenger can bring up to four children for free rides.
There are no restrictions in place on TransLink’s buses, with children in this age group not required to have any proof of payment, identification, or fare-paying passenger. HandyDART will also be free for children with a disability, as long as there is an accompanying adult.
“TransLink is pleased to partner with the BC government to extend free transit to kids age 12 and under on all modes,” said new TransLink CEO Kevin Quinn.
“It is my hope that by making public transit more affordable, this program will encourage families to take transit more frequently, give children the opportunity to see public transit as a comfortable, reliable way to get around, and serve as an important part of our efforts to reduce carbon emissions.”
On BC Transit, unaccompanied children aged six to 12 will be able to ride buses and HandyDART for free, without a fare or identification. But the provincial public transit authority will require children aged five and under to be accompanied by a person 12 or older to ensure the safety of the young child.
The provincial government, TransLink, and BC Transit are launching a marketing campaign called “Get on Boards — Kids 12 and Under Ride Free” to raise awareness about the free youth transit.
It is estimated that about 370,000 children in this age group across the entire province will no longer need to buy any fare or a monthly pass.
A family would save $687 annually by not having to buy a $57 monthly TransLink pass. On the BC Transit system, the savings for a pass reach an average of $35 monthly or $420 per year.
“This initiative will create lifelong transit riders, build better, more inclusive and sustainable communities and move us all further along the pathway to a cleaner and stronger British Columbia,” said George Heyman, BC Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy and Minister Responsible for TransLink.
“More people choosing public transit means fewer vehicles on the road, reduced traffic congestion and cleaner air for everyone.”
This is the most significant public transit initiative for young people since the U-Pass system, launched by TransLink in 2003, was expanded by the provincial government to all post-secondary institutions across BC in 2010.
Both TransLink and BC Transit already offer free transit to kids under five years old with an accompanying fare-paying passenger. As announced earlier this year, both public transit authorities agreed to expand free transit to children up to the age of 12 when the provincial government set aside $26 million annually to cover the cost of reduced fare revenues from this older youth age group.
In recent weeks, public transit ridership volumes on TransLink have been on the upswing, with ridership growing to about half of normal transit volumes as of the middle of July — the highest since the pandemic’s onset. Ridership is expected to continue to increase with the economy’s restart well underway, and the return of in-class instruction at post-secondary campuses in September.
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