Vancouver City Council has voted to have Mayor Kennedy Stewart write a letter to TransLink and the provincial government to request they implement free public transit in Metro Vancouver for individuals aged 18 and under.
Late last night, after a public speaker’s list and an unusual City Council meeting that involved spending well over an hour to mostly debate on the semantics and grammar of the proposed motion and motion amendments that will guide the details of the letter, as well as debate procedure, City Council voted 10-1 in support of the motion, with NPA councillor Colleen Hardwick voting against.
In addition to free transit for youth, the motion proposed by COPE councillor Jean Swanson, extending an initiative of the “#AllOnBoard” campaign, included requests for reduced transit prices based on a sliding scale for low-income individuals regardless of their demographic profile.
The motion included proposals to unlink ICBC from fare evasion records for both youth and adults, and “require” TransLink to adopt a poverty reduction strategy to help address affordability.
During the meeting, Swanson lamented the accessibility of transit for low-income individuals as a “safety issue” and said the approval would be “one step closer to treating transit like healthcare.”
“How can we have a transit system where thousands and thousands of people look at it and say, ‘that’s not for me’?” added Swanson.
But it is estimated such regional fare policy changes would result in a significant $35-million annual reduction in fare revenue for TransLink, which can likely only be neutralized by new annual subsidies by the provincial government.
Hardwick, the one councillor who did not support the motion, worried about the potential cost to TransLink and taxpayers across the region.
“There is no free ride… money does not fall from the sky, and sometimes we need to make hard choices,” said Hardwick. “It makes absolute sense to me to be supporting people living with poverty, but across the board to be saying everyone up to 18 gets a free ride and somehow that is a justification… we cannot just continually be asking [taxpayers].”
Several councillors came to Swanson’s defense, including the Green Party’s Pete Fry, by stating such a policy would get young people used to riding transit early in their lives and create a culture shift. It was also noted that young people are increasingly deciding not to get a driver’s license, in favour of other modes of transportation like public transit.
“Let’s give it a shot,” said Fry. “It is just a letter to write in the first place, and if we’re changing cultures, I think this is a way to start.”
This is not the first time a City Council in the region has requested TransLink to consider free transit for youth, as a similar request was also made by a New Westminster city councillor in July 2018. At that time, in response, TransLink said it “is open to starting a dialogue on the idea of free transit for kids.”