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Hamilton councillors vote for pilot offering free transit to kids amid ridership recovery effort

Hamilton councillors are looking at a pilot offering free HSR bus rides to children up to the age of 12. Global News

The executive director of Hamilton’s Boys and Girls Club says the possibility of Hamilton’s transit agency offering up free rides to children 12 and under is a “tremendous idea” that could proliferate more activity for youth, particularly from families watching their pocketbooks.

“I think participating in any type of activity or sport is important for that age group,” Glenn Harkness told 900 CHML’s Good Morning Hamilton.

“So if we could eliminate that, that one barrier of transportation, then I think we’re doing a good thing.”

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Council approved an 18-month pilot project during a Wednesday meeting, following a public works committee vote which unanimously approved moving forward with the initiative.

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During last week’s session, transit director Maureen Cosyn Heath said the pandemic had significant impacts on the financial well-being of marginalized constituents and that the pilot might help increase declining ridership.

“So while in the past this may not have been an idea that was appropriate at the timing, we feel now as we move forward on a period of ridership recovery that this is an important strategy,” Cosyn Heath told the committee.

Under the pilot, children aged six to 12 with a PRESTO card will be able to ride the HSR for free until April 30, 2023.

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The campaign is expected to affect annual HSR revenues in that age group, but by how much has yet to be determined.

It’s estimated the HSR collected around $164,000 in 2019. That number was significantly lower in 2020 due to the pandemic.

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Current fares for kids aged six and up is $2.10 for a single ride with a monthly pass going for $92.40.

Hamilton is one of only a few Southern Ontario municipalities not offering free rides to kids, unlike Burlington, Kingston, London, Oakville, Windsor and Toronto who joined the trend years ago.

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Mountain councillor John-Paul Danko characterized the pilot as a potential opportunity to make users “a customer for life.”

Harkness is optimistic once the pilot is up, the city will make free rides for youth permanent. He estimates the savings for one child could be somewhere between $20 and $30 per week which a family could redirect to rent and/or groceries.

‘We live in a day and age where everything seems to be going up,” Harkness said.

“The costs of groceries have been hitting the news lately, renting and house prices. Yeah, if we can do something just to save them a little bit, then I think it’s a great thing.”

Two other incentives were approved by council were an enhanced loyalty program and free weekday morning rides on the new HSR myRide on-demand transit service in Waterdown.

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Until December 31, 2022, riders will be able to earn a free fare after 8 rides per week rather than the current 11 riders per week.

Waterdown customers on the myRide service can take free rides on weekdays in November and December from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. when using PRESTO.

If ratified, the city is expected to launch the pilot this November.

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