Free Rides

You may have heard TransLink is doing a Fare Review process. I wrote a bit about this a few months ago after attending a stakeholders meeting. The next phase of the process is meant to begin in the Fall according to the TransLink webpage, but I recently read a story that brought to mind one of my pet peeves about the transit fare system, and an idea that I think we need to adopt.

It is time we stop charging youth for using Transit.

I don’t have kids, so this isn’t about me saving money, but I have a couple of close friends in New Westminster who changed their travel pattern once their kids got to paying-for-transit age. At some point, paying for yourself and two others makes transit less desirable when a family can travel together in other modes (car, taxi, rideshare, etc.) at the cost of one person.

I would rather that young families be encouraged to ride transit together, for a couple of reasons. First off, it promotes the more sustainable mode, allowing more people to access transit and reduces traffic congestion, travel cost, environmental impact, all of the good things a well-used Public Transit system delivers to a community. The larger benefit, however, may be found in normalizing the use of transit for youth at the time of their life when life-long patterns are established.

It sends a message to 6-year-olds when we tell them that being driven by mom or dad to every event is the normal way to travel longer than a walking distance. By making it easy for them to accompany their parent on a bus and the SkyTrain, kids are not only demonstrated that public transit works for many trips, but are also taught how to navigate the City using transit, and to be comfortable in transit situations. This means they will more easily transition to being independent transit users, and will more likely see transit as an alternative when they grow older.

Of all the incentive programs that TransLink could put in place to drive ridership, this could potentially have the greatest long-term benefits since the U-Pass program was introduced. It would also, arguably, increase revenue, as more parents would be encouraged to pay a fare that they are now skipping because they have kids in tow, and the kids who are now riding for free are likely to become regular customers when they reach working age.

I’m not sure how this would work with our Faregate system (ugh…), nor am I sure if following the example of Toronto and London by making 12 the cut-off age is the right balance. I get the feeling that extending free rides to the age of 18 (essentially, the age students finish High School, and have first access to the U-Pass system) will better meet the public policy goal of “normalizing” transit use. These policy details probably require a better economic analysis than this blog post, and I trust the planners in TransLink to do that work. However, the larger policy idea will have to come from the community asking this of TransLink.

For the future of the region, kids and teens should ride for free.

3 comments on “Free Rides

  1. I agree with this idea. Even going downtown, where free parking is exceedingly rare, the marginal cost of driving and parking is usually less than the fare there and back for a family of four on a weekend. Kids riding for free would change the calculation substantially.

  2. This has been on my mind for years. If we give passes to youth (6-18) then they will be brought
    up learning how to use transit. They will also
    encourage their parents to use public transit too. The more ridership goes up the better traffic flow and a healthier environment.

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