April 26, 2019 8:13 pm
Updated: April 27, 2019 12:33 am

City of Victoria proposes free public transit, province not willing to foot the bill

WATCH: Victoria city council is considering a pilot project that would make public transit free for everyone under 19, but as Richard Zussman reports, there is debate over how to pay for it.

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Victoria city council is looking to buck the old saying that there is no such thing as a free ride.

Council approved on Thursday the next step towards scrapping transit fares in the Capital Regional District. Councillor Sharmarke Dubow put forward the idea with councillor Ben Isitt pushing the regional transit commission to get rid of fares to encourage higher ridership and to address climate change concerns.

READ MORE: Former Somali refugee sworn in as Victoria city councillor


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“It’s good for the planet, for climate, it would help congestion,” Dubow said.

“It would allow people to move easily to where they work, to where they worship, to where they play.”

Dubow says the idea isn’t new citing examples in Kingston, Ontario, Luxembourg and Estonia. But the move could be expensive.

Victoria city council is suggesting either an increase in property taxes or a full funding partnership with the provincial and federal governments.

“We need to monitor how it will be rolled out. It needs the help of all levels of government. It would be a partnership,” Dubow said.

“It’s not going to be easy, of course. Everything you implement has its own challenges.”

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Victoria is hoping to start the pilot by implementing free transit for riders under the age of 19 starting next year.

Premier John Horgan, however, was quick to rule out provincial money for free transit.

“I believe Victoria’s ideas are all well and good, if they want to raise the money in Victoria to pay for it,” Horgan said.

“We are working with mayors and council to try and find ways forward. I don’t want to diminish the suggestion coming out of Victoria, but Victoria is a terminus and the structure needs to be built out of there.”

The provincial government is willing to financially support low-income transit subsidies. There is also a push from Metro Vancouver to support young people using transit.

READ MORE: Transit use setting records in Metro Vancouver

Mayors’ Council Chair Jonathan Cote, however, says implementing free transit in Metro Vancouver would be nearly impossible. The region is much larger than the Capital Region and fares currently cover about half of TransLink’s operating costs.

“We are looking for opportunities to partner with the provincial government for things like free transit for youth and low income passes. But overall I think in Metro Vancouver it would not be the right context to have free transit for all passengers,” Cote said.

“It would just be such a significant cost that would require a brand new revenue source or result in reduced transit service.”

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