It was great to see high school students presenting to the SCRD board on the subject of transit fares for students on Dec. 3. It’s important for youth to get involved and learn how local government works, so kudos to Mari Nielsen and Rowan Moore for their presentation.
The arguments in favour of free transit for students include improving access to transportation locally (especially for lower income families), reducing the amount of chauffeuring that parents do (thus reducing traffic and GHG emissions), and getting kids into the habit of using transit.
But what would it cost? Directors trying to make a decision were frustrated that we didn’t have better information.
Although the SCRD operates Sunshine Coast Transit, our fares are set in conjunction with BC Transit, and their report didn’t give us firm information on the local impact of free fares for students. Their estimates were based on province wide averages. And they lump together seniors and students under “concession” fares, so we don’t know how many of each are riding our buses. It seems likely that a lot are seniors, based on the 2016 census which shows that the SCRD has two and one third seniors (65+) for every youth (age 5-19).
Moreover, BCT told us that due to increased ridership we would need one or two more buses, costing over $100,000 each, but they didn’t show us any local statistics to support that.
Finally, this process is maddeningly slow. Ordering a new bus alone takes up to two years. The two jurisdictions in BC that are piloting free youth fares (Whistler and Victoria) both proceeded without more buses.
BC Transit is rolling out fare technology changes across BC and although upgrades to fareboxes will support some of the services we really want here (like the Next Bus app), I am a little concerned that they intend to eliminate transfers across the province and replace them with Day Passes to be sold on the bus.
Obviously, it will be a great convenience for most people to be able to buy a day pass on any bus for $4 (twice the $2 fare). For people making multiple bus trips per day, and visitors, this is a considerable savings. But anyone who makes a single trip per day with a transfer will pay $4, or double the previous fare. Would this affect many bus riders here? I don’t know. When asked how many transfers are issued locally, BC Transit couldn’t tell us.
Staff will be bringing more information to the board in the new year.