(Pictured: Susan Brice, Zeb King, Ned Taylor)
Kansas City, Olympia, Washington, Worcester, Massachusetts as well as about 100 other cities in the world have fare free public transit. Could we do it here? Central Saanich Councillor Zeb King certainly thinks we have no choice. Saanich Voice Online talked to three councillors in Saanich and on the Peninsula and this is what they said.
Councillor Susan Brice talked about why she has chosen to be on the Board of BC Transit and is the current Chair of the Victoria Regional Transit Commission (VRTC). “I have found it increasingly interesting to see that public transit is seen as part of the solution to many of our issues: the economy, equity, global warming, compact communities.”
She is not convinced , however, that lower fares or getting rid of the fare-box is the answer now. “That money has to go into infrastructure. There are those of us that believe the studies that say that riders want more reliability, safety and expanded service.” Although the Saanich Council unanimously passed a motion brought forward by Councillor Nathalie Chambers to ask the VRTC to look into free transit for youth, both Brice and Mayor Haynes voted down the motion at the VRTC. Instead they have been working on a rapid bus solution to be head quartered at the Saanich property near the Uptown Shopping Centre. Bus only lanes have been part of the vision, she says, of giving transit strong priority. Currently, buses are fairly evenly paid for by a combination of provincial and municipal tax, gas tax and fares.
Ned Taylor, also on Saanich Council, has recently taken a motion with two other councillors to the Capital Regional District (CRD). Taylor says the Province of BC wants to decrease the amount it gives to municipalities for transit and he believes that is the wrong direction. “The future I see for transit in Saanich is a system that is more sustainable, accessible and affordable for people and also a system that is more efficient and convenient for people.” As Saanich and the surrounding areas have a housing crisis he says, “frankly, we need to be making life more affordable for youth and families in this region.” As a frequent transit user, Taylor said it hit his family hard when subsidized bus passes for youth were taken away. He, like all the other councillors in Saanich, voted to look into free bus passes for youth.
For Zeb King there is no doubt that user fees need to be taken off buses and not just for youth. Our climate goals alone have no way of being met without getting people into transit. “I know our collective greenhouse gas emissions are over 50% from transportation and 66% in Central Saanich. There is simply no better way than through transit to reduce our emissions in the short time we have as per the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.”
“We do not pay to use, libraries or hospitals,” said King, “they are paid through our collective taxes.” King thinks that is fairer way to go.
The Saanich Peninsula representative at the VRTC, Mayor Geoff Orr of North Saanich, voted in favour of looking into free youth passes.
Most users of the bus are concerned about both the environmental and financial cost of cars. Public transit is also seen as an efficient way to get many essential service workers to their place of employment.
The federal government is now putting millions into transit. Next year with federal help, there will be 10 new electric buses in the Capital Region, but the tie vote at the VRTC is preventing any chance for fare free transit for youth outside of Victoria. For now they -and all other passengers- have to pay a fare while others ride fare free.
~Sabina Singh, citizen journalist