Free bus passes for east London, Ont. high schoolers gets green light

File photo of London Transit Commission bus. Global News

A pilot project to give free bus passes to Grade 9 students is currently being developed by city staff in conjunction with the London Transit Commission (LTC) and the Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB).

A motion from Deputy Mayor Shawn Lewis and Ward 3 Coun. Peter Cuddy went before the Strategic Priorities and Policy Committee (SPPC) Tuesday, directing city staff to begin work on the two-year pilot project.

The project would provide free transit passes to Grade 9 students at Clarke Road Secondary School, starting in September, with the program expanding to Grade 10 students the following year.

The program doesn’t aim to eliminate the existing school bus service, as some students would not have access to transit routes.

A presentation from Lori-Ann Pizzolato, London trustee on the TVDSB board, and superintendent Cathy Lynd went over the benefits of the program.

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“A project such as this would support participation in extracurricular activities before and after school and off site,” Pizzolato said

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“A pilot project would also support students with employment opportunities by making transportation more accessible. In addition to these positive outcomes, we also believe that this pilot project will assist students in getting to school, which is necessary in order for students to be successful.”

Clarke Road was chosen for the pilot as several routes already service the Argyle area, and the LTC identified several routes as having capacity in the mornings and afternoons.

The committee voted 13-2 to pass the motion, with Ward 4 Coun. Susan Stevenson and Ward 5 Coun. Jerry Pribil opposed.

“This is about more than just to and from school,” Lewis said.

“This is a win for the city on climate initiatives and mode share, this is a win for the school board for student achievement and attendance, and it’s a win for students and quality of life and participation in our community.

While nearly every councillor voted in favour of the project, many questioned the particulars of the proposal, including costs, the inclusion of other schools, and if a pilot was even necessary.

“I don’t know that we need a pilot project to know it’s likely to be favourably received,” Stevenson said.

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“I would rather do what it is we intend to do rather than spend a lot of time trying to analyze something that I think the metrics for are also going to be extremely difficult to quantify.”

Stevenson put forward a motion to refer the issue to the next SPPC meeting to allow a delegation from the LTC, but it was defeated.

Details of the agreement still need to be ironed out between city hall, the TVDSB, and LTC. Terms of the agreement would need council approval at a later date.

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