June 12, 2019 8:56 pm

Victoria approves free public transit for young residents starting in fall

WATCH: Beginning in September, anyone under the age of 18 with a Victoria address will be able to ride public transit for free. Kylie Stanton explains why the city is making the change.

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A plan to provide free public transit to all Victoria resident under the age of 18 is becoming a reality.

Starting in September, the City of Victoria will take on the cost of the $45 monthly youth transit passes.

“The [Victoria Regional] Transit Commission made its decision yesterday to allow Victoria to purchase the fare product, so the U-Pass, the Universal Pass,” said Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps.

WATCH: (Aired April 26) Victoria city council wants free public transit for minors

“So, starting this fall, kids who are living in Victoria will get free transit.”

City council approved sending the plan to the transit commission in April. At that time, the province had said no money would come from them, leaving Victoria to figure out how to pay for it.

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

The plan will not see any tax increases, despite a recommendation from council to do just that.

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Instead, the money will come from parking revenue, which currently brings in about $8 million a year.

As of May 1, the city started charging for parking on Sundays, which is expected to add between $600,000 to $1 million to the pot.

With 6,350 youth in the city, and passes at a cost of $135 per year, that should be enough to cover it.

READ MORE: Mayors’ council to debate transit discounts but wants province to pick up the tab

At the same time, Helps said families will also save.

“It’s money back in parents’ pockets that can be spent on food, or rent or maybe ballet or soccer.”

The idea is to create lifelong transit riders by starting them young. It’s also being called a promising step in combating climate change.

WATCH: (Aired Jan. 17) Campaign for free youth transit and low-income discounts goes to Vancouver council

Now, students from around the Capital Regional District (CRD) are hoping the commission will consider expanding the program to include other municipalities in the region, including Saanich and Oak Bay.

“We really want it to be a CRD-wide thing,” Our Earth Our Future co-organizer Emma-Jane Burian said.

“We really hope that the transit commission, after looking into it more, decides to do if for the whole region, but we’re still waiting to hear more.”

READ MORE: Vancouver city council to vote on backing free transit for youth, discounts for low-income riders

Naturally, that has transit users are asking whether free transit for all is an option.

Roughly one-third of transit revenues come from ridership. The city is hoping to look at what the total cost might be, and put it to the public to decide whether to shift the burden to taxpayers.

“What I’d love to see in 2022 is a referendum across the region that says, ‘Here’s the price tag, do you want to pay?'” Helps said.

—With files from Richard Zussman

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