Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Paying for expanding free and discounted transit passes should rest with the province

Every so often, discussions in our region bubble up about if transit service should be free, the cost of transit fares should be reduced for everyone, or if existing discount programs should be expanded to encompass a larger group of people. Generally, the status-quo prevails.

King George SkyTrain Station

Today, children 4 years old and younger can use transit for free. Children and young people between the ages of 5 and 18, people 65 years and older, plus HandyCard holders pay a lower Concession fare which is 12% to 70% lower than regular adult fares depending on the product.

People who attend public post-secondary initiations receive a discounted U-Pass.

TransLink also sells the provincial government Concession-priced transit passes to support the BC Bus Pass program which provides annual transit passes to people with disabilities and low-income seniors. The province charges $45 per year to people who are eligible for the BC Bus Pass.

There is currently a wide variety of discounted and near-free transit access programs that are available for people in our region. Even so, TransLink estimates that there are currently about 45,000 active transit users in our region who live in households with incomes below the low-income cut-off, and who are not eligible for the current subsidized programs.

TransLink estimates that it would cost between $25 to $40 million per year to provide near-free transit passes to all people who live in households with incomes below the low-income cut-off. If the region was going to provide near-free transit access to all people with low-incomes without the help of the province, it would require an increase in property tax that all property owners pay between $14 and $22 per year, per household on average.

When TransLink completed its Transit Fare Review last year, it found that the majority of people were supportive of expanding discounted transit access programs. When asked if regular fares should be increased to make up the loss of revenue, that support reduced to 47%.

At tomorrow’s TransLink Mayors’ Council meeting, the following recommendations are being proposed for endorsement by the region’s mayors:

  1. Reaffirm the existing policy position of the Mayors’ Council and TransLink Board that expanding transit fare discounts for low-income residents, children and youth are social policy objectives and are best funded and administered by the Provincial Government.
  2. Publicly advocate to the Province for funding to expand discounts to: (a) more low-income residents than are currently eligible under the existing BC Bus Pass Program; and (b) children and youth on the basis that the Province pays all associated TransLink incremental costs.

While there is clearly a desire to increase travel choice for all people in our region, it is the responsibility of the provincial government to expand these discounted programs. The provincial government is ultimately responsible for funding social programs in Metro Vancouver as it has the financial resources.

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