Children in B.C. ride the buses free starting this fall, and the Regional District of Nanaimo is making preparations locally for the coming change.
The B.C. government committed, in its 2021 budget, to offering free public transit for children 12 and under. In a letter to the RDN, B.C. Transit said the government will compensate participating local government partners for revenue lost by the provision of service. A staff report states B.C. Transit will provide $62,653 to RDN Transit for a period between Sept. 1 and March 31. Students 13-18 years of age will be required to pay a $2.50 fare if travelling one zone.
The RDN’s transit select committee is set to discuss a related motion at its meeting Thursday, July 15.
B.C. Transit said in the letter that it hopes to reduce greenhouse gases and rebuild ridership numbers after COVID-19 restrictions limited the number of riders.
B.C. Transit said it is currently “finalizing a contribution agreement with the province for funding,” and Stuart McLean, RDN transit select committee chairperson, anticipates the program will be included in the RDN’s annual operating agreement with B.C. Transit.
While RDN Transit saw near-maximum ridership during the pandemic, McLean hopes free transit for children will help lead RDN Transit to a return to pre-COVID-19 ridership levels.
“I think it will definitely be an encouragement come September and back-to-school and hopefully back to somewhat normal,” said McLean. “I do think it would increase ridership, or at least get us back, hopefully, where we were before.”
Charlene McKay, Nanaimo-Ladysmith school board chairperson, said the school district has policy in place to offer students transportation to and from school. However for families that don’t qualify, the program will be beneficial.
“We have such a diverse socio-economic school district, so of course there’s a benefit to providing free services and transportation for students,” McKay told the News Bulletin. “That is important, especially if transportation is a barrier to things like extra-curricular activities, anything we can do to remove those barriers is a benefit for families.”
In an e-mailed statement, B.C. Transit said its top priority is providing safe and affordable public transportation and supports the province in its plan to offer free transit for children 12 years and under. More information will be made available as plans are finalized, B.C. Transit said.