The uptake for free bus passes for youth is steadily rising in Victoria, with 2,450 passes collected for March so far. The passes became active in December when 2,130 were collected. Each month, however, the City is purchasing rights to 7,200 youth passes at a discounted rate of $11.25 per pass per month from BC Transit, coming to a total cost of $81,000 per month.
The number 7,200 came from the total number of youth in the city, explained Coun. Sharmarke Dubow, who also sits on the Victoria Regional Transit Commission (VRTC). The aim is to get a pass to every youth resident.
“This was the most cost-effective option,” he said. “The other option was to pay $45 per pass, just like anyone can do at a local store.”
While the uptake has slowly increased, there are still 4,750 passes remaining unclaimed every month.
This, Dubow said, will likely have a steady uptake, with a boost coming in the fall.
“We expect participation rates will jump in the new school year, because we’re trying to incorporate them into student ID cards,” Dubow said. “We’re also considering options for those not enrolled in school.”
Dubow added that presently the only way youth can pick up passes is at City Hall.
“This may create barriers, which is maybe why numbers are lower.”
The youth passes are part of a city-wide pilot project encouraging youth to take sustainable transporation, with costs covered by Sunday street parking fees implemented in May 2019.
They are only available to youth who reside in Victoria city limits. This means that even if a student who lives outside of the city’s borders attends a Victoria school they are not eligible for a pass.
This was an issue Dubow and Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, who also sits on the VRTC, tried to approach in a recent VRTC meeting when a proposition was forwarded to study the costs of a region-wide free youth transit pass.
The motion failed in a 4-4 tie vote, with Dubow, Helps, Oak Bay Mayor Kevin Murdoch and North Saanich Mayor Geoff Orr supporting the motion, and Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes, Colwood Mayor Rob Martin, Sooke Mayor Maja Tait and commission chair Susan Brice voting against it. This was the second time the same question was met with a tie vote, the first being in August 2019.
“It was unfortunate because we just wanted to look into it and then have answers, so we didn’t give ourselves the opportunity to look,” Dubow said.
Some Oak Bay residents are pushing for a similar plan, however. In their ongoing discussions, the Oak Bay Climate Action Working Group has considered looking into making youth bus passes free, similar to what Victoria is doing. The working group even reached out to consider the costs, and inquired into purchasing any leftover passes from the City. However, the group is still in its deliberation stages for its final recommendations to Oak Bay council.
As for now, the city will continue to pay for its entire youth population to ride the bus despite actual ridership.
– with files from Travis Paterson