Free public transit for all youth in Victoria begins this fall

Jun 12 2019, 5:05 pm

Anyone 18 years old and younger in the City of Victoria will be provided with a free transit pass as early as the start of the 2018-19 school year.

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On Tuesday, Victoria Regional Transit Commission approved in a meeting to provide free transit passes to youth who have a registered residence within the city limits.

The policy is purely strategic: By encouraging more young people to use transit early on in their lives, they may be more likely to use transit when they transition into adulthood.

BC’s capital city has a population of about 86,000 residents, with 6,000 now set to be provided with a free pass. Students residing within the Capital Region, but outside of the city, are not covered.

The free transit for youth program will cost about $850,000 per year, which will be entirely covered by the municipal government’s recent implementation of pay parking on Sundays. New parking revenues are anticipated to raise about $1 million annually.

Transit fares in Victoria for youth are currently $2.50 for a single boarding cash fare and $45.00 for a monthly pass

Victoria’s transit system is operated by BC Transit.

For several years, a form of free public transit has also been provided in Whistler, but only as a traffic mitigation measure during the busy peak summer tourist season. All public transit in Whistler, operated by BC Transit, is free for everyone on summer weekends, with this year’s period beginning on June 15 and ending on September 3.

Whistler also funds its free transit program from pay parking revenues generated by Day Lots, as well as some direct municipal subsidies.

Over in the Metro Vancouver, there were recently renewed calls by several municipal governments that requested TransLink to give free public transit for youth further consideration.

New Westminster city council made a request in the summer of 2018, followed by Vancouver city council in January 2018, and Burnaby city council in March 2018.

In response, TransLink performed further analysis; a report released by the public transit authority in April 2018 found that free transit for youth 18 and under would result in an annual revenue hole of between $40 million and $50 million.

In addition to free transit for youth, TransLink’s analysis also determined that free transit for low-income residents would lead to further losses of between $25 million and $40 million, bringing the total hole to the range of $90 million.

Currently, fares cover 58% of TransLink’s annual operating budget, and the remainder by the regional property tax and fuel sales tax.

Three possible funding options were identified to achieve free transit for these groups: property taxes would have to be hiked by $36 to $49 per year, fuel taxes would have to be increased by 3 cents to 5 cents per litre, or transit fares would have to see an uptick of 25 to 35 cents.

But TransLink says a recent survey found very low support for passing on these new costs directly to regular transit riders or regional taxpayers.

Instead, the public transit authority suggested advocating the provincial government to expand its discount programs for low-income residents and provide the public transit authority with new annual subsidies to cover the high cost of free transit for youth.

For several years, a form of free public transit has also been provided in Whistler, but only as a traffic mitigation measure during the busy peak summer tourist season. All public transit in Whistler, operated by BC Transit, is free on summer weekends, with this year’s period beginning on June 15 and ending on September 3.

 

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