No free rides: Council sends message to focus on transit quality

No free rides: Council sends message to focus on transit quality

A decision not to waive transit fares for unaccompanied riders under 12 surprised Taproot's city hall watchers but struck them as a message that council wants more focus on making transit better.

City council's executive committee considered amending the fare policy on Oct. 13 but decided in the end to receive the report for information rather than taking steps to let all kids ride for free. (Transit is already free for children 12 and under who are accompanied by a fare-paying adult.)

"I think … they want to be really clear with administration that what they want them to do is improve service delivery," Speaking Municipally co-host Mack Male said on Episode 238 of the civic affairs podcast. "And any distraction away from that is maybe seen as mixed messaging or not giving clear enough direction back to administration."

Youth fares account for $900,000 of ETS's revenue, with most of that coming from schools purchasing and distributing student passes, says a report from administration. Forgoing that revenue would leave a considerable hole in the budget, though Coun. Aaron Paquette noted that "there's nothing explicit" directing that revenue toward bettering services, Male added.

During the debate, Coun. Andrew Knack noted the value of encouraging transit ridership early.

"Can you make young people riders for life if they are able to use transit when they're kids, and they get used to the idea, and it's not a foreign thing to them — when they're then full-fare-paying adults — to use public transit?" Male asked. "I like that argument, though it really rests on the idea that the service is good."

Whether the method is free transit or improved service, increasing ridership is fundamental to achieving the city's sustainability goals, said co-host Troy Pavlek.

"If we are building a climate-resilient city for the next 50 years, it's the current 12-year-olds that are going to be making up the bulk of that city," he said.

Hear more about the youth fare proposal, as well as downtown retail and the now-concluded debate on zoning bylaw renewal on the Oct. 20 episode of Speaking Municipally. You'll also get a chance to hear from Taproot's newest hire, Stephanie Swensrude.

Photo: A bus passes the WCB building in downtown Edmonton. (Mack Male/Flickr)