Victoria youth will start riding transit for free this fall, but residents living elsewhere in the Capital Regional District won’t be so lucky.
The Victoria Regional Transit Commission decided this week not to go ahead with a pilot program that would give free transit passes to people under 18 in the district’s 12 other municipalities, including Saanich and Oak Bay.
Despite pressure from residents, the commission ruled they have more immediate priorities they want to address first, before potentially revisiting the issue.
“We decided that given the need to expand service, particularly into areas of the region that are under-serviced, that we would focus all of our resources at this time,” chair Susan Brice said Thursday.
Brice added other features now commonplace in Victoria, including more frequency and late-night service, are also being worked on in the district.
“All of these things that are really expected and available within the city are not available to all areas of the region yet, so that’s our goal,” she said.
WATCH: (June 12) Victoria to offer free transit to young people
The commission approved Victoria city council’s proposal for free youth transit passes in June, allowing the city to cover the cost of the $45 monthly passes.
The program is set to start in September, and will allow the more than 6,300 youth who have a Victoria postal code to travel for free throughout the regional district.
Saanich city council directed staff last month to ask the commission to consider expanding the decision region-wide.
Brice said the issue of how to cover the cost of the passes — without raising taxes — was another major hurdle.
“Generally after review, most jurisdictions find they have to have some kind of third-party payer,” she said.
The cost of the passes in Victoria will be covered by 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 and $1 million to the pot.
WATCH: (April 26) Victoria city council wants free public transit for minors
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said she was disappointed in the commission’s decision not to expand the program.
“I really do feel for the young people,” Helps said. “If we can get kids riding the bus when they’re young, they’re going to be lifelong transit users.”
Students throughout the district, meanwhile, say they aren’t going to give up fighting for free transit.
“I really think it is so important as we are seeing more drastic forms of climate change,” Our Earth Our Future co-organizer Emma-Jane Burian said.
“When youth start taking transit it creates habit for them to ride when they’re older, and it creates a whole new generation of transit users.”
Helps is hopeful the commission will be able to eventually make that dream a reality.
“Hopefully in the future this is a program that could roll out across the region, at the same time as we expand and provide greater service,” she said.
— With files from Kylie Stanton