Should public transit be free for minors?
A Vancouver city councillor is pushing a proposal aimed at letting those under the age of 18 take public transit for free.
Jean Swanson says the move would help make sure "kids are safe and can ride the bus when they don't have money."
The COPE councillor's four-part motion is aimed at garnering city council support for All on Board, a campaign that advocates for free transit for minors and a sliding scale monthly pass system for low-income adults.
"Metro Vancouver has zero affordability measures based on income to ensure equitable access to our public transit system," the campaign's website says. "We lag far behind many cities and municipalities across Canada, the U.S. and beyond that offer affordability measures to ensure low-income folks can access the essential service of public transit."
According to the motion, "lack of transportation is one of the most common reasons for missing medical appointments and a significant barrier to social inclusion and labour market inclusion for low-income adults and youth."
The final say about any changes to the fare system rests with TransLink.
That's why Swanson is proposing the city send a letter encouraging the transportation authority and the province to work together to develop of a plan that would make All on Board's goals a reality.
The motion also suggests that, in a separate letter, the city ask the Metro Vancouver Mayors' Council on Regional Transportation to require TransLink to adopt a poverty reduction mandate. That document would also ask the council to amend bylaws so that minors are no longer ticketed for fare evasion.
TransLink already offers discounts for young people and seniors using its services, but advocates say transit is still too expensive for some.
"They're put into a position where they have to steal rides to get to work to get to the food bank, to get to the basketball team tryout, and then they're getting ticketed," said Vivica Ellis of All on Board.
A campaign to push TransLink to lower its fares has already been backed by councillors in New Westminster and Port Moody.
The transportation authority said it's already looking into the idea, but would have to find millions of dollars to make it happen.
And the option of increasing fares for some so that they can be lowered for others is not on the table.
"Fares represent half of our operating budget annually," said spokesperson Jill Drews. "We would need to recover the cost. We're exploring what that cost might be. It will likely be in the tens of millions of dollars each year."
TransLink said it has already had conversations with the NDP about funding. The province confirmed Tuesday it had "preliminary discussions" with TransLink.
Vancouver councillors did not hold a final vote on Swanson's motion Tuesday, but agreed to refer her proposal to the Standing Committee on City Finance and Service so that it can hear from speakers on Wednesday.
With files from CTV Vancouver's Emad Agahi