The fares on the bus will be free, free, free for riders 12 and under across the province, including on the Sunshine Coast, starting this September.
At the July 22 Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) board meeting, the directors passed all three readings and adopted changes to the transit fees and charges bylaw that will allow the change to the fare structure.
“The opportunity to build a culture of public transit and hopefully see ridership increase is very exciting,” Shelley Gagnon, general manager of community services, said at a committee meeting earlier that day. She told the board the initiative could be cost-neutral for the SCRD.
In April, the provincial government announced $26 million in the 2021 budget to support the provincewide program affecting 86 BC Transit systems.
All of the revenue collected through transit fares goes toward offsetting SCRD expenditures related to transit services, the staff report states, under the annual operating agreement with BC Transit. By allowing youth 12 and younger to ride for free, BC Transit determined $16,433, or $2,347.63 per month, from September to the end of March 2022 would compensate for the anticipated revenue difference for the SCRD. This cost will be covered by the provincial government funding available for the project.
Directors asked if the SCRD or BC Transit will be tracking the impact of the initiative on local ridership. James Walton, the SCRD’s manager of transit and fleet, told the board that all of the buses, except for two, have passenger counters on board.
BC Transit is expected to monitor busloads, as well as boarding or disembarking at schools to determine if a future schedule change is necessary. Currently, the buses are not scheduled to line up with school times, so staff said they are not anticipating a huge shift from school buses to transit buses for commuting to or from school.
Elphinstone director Donna McMahon added that she sees the free rides for youth as consistent with the strategic plan’s climate change objectives, when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
At the beginning of the program, children will be able to ride the bus without a fare product or I.D. BC Transit will introduce a fare product and registration system for proof of age at a later time.
Public consultation for the transit future action plan is expected to begin in August.