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Increased pressure possible on transit as school year and free transit for under 12 begins

Timothy Schafer Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
By Timothy Schafer Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
September 2nd, 2021

A seat on the bus in Nelson could become an endangered species as a new program providing free transit to those under 12 kicks in this week.

The provincial program to offer free transit in Nelson and across the province went into effect Sept. 1 but — the loss of revenue to the city aside — there is a deeper concern over possible increased pressure on transit in peak times and people not being able to get on the bus, says the city’s chief financial officer.

Colin McClure said those peak times coincide with the start and end points for the school day.

“If (increased pressure) becomes a consistent issue it may result in an additional bus run requirement at the peak times — that would be a challenging decision as adding an extra bus just for peak times could be cost prohibitive,” he said.

McClure had confidence the city’s Transit manager and staff would analyze the situation and, if tweaks were required to the system, would first look at adding a bus to make sure the city’s service delivered all the riders to their destinations in a timely fashion.

Some ride for free

The provincially funded and sponsored change will allow unaccompanied children aged six to 12 to ride public transit for free without requiring a fare product or identification.

However, BC Transit requires children aged five and under to be accompanied by a person 12 years of age or older.

While travel for children 12 and under will be free, parents and guardians “remain responsible for providing adequate provisions for the safety and care of their children whenever travelling on transit, including when travelling unaccompanied and determining if their children may take transit unaccompanied,” read a release from BC Transit.

It is estimated that approximately 370,000 children 12 and under throughout B.C. — including Nelson — will be eligible to ride for free when the program launches.

Aiding and abetting

The move to encourage young people to take the bus could have far reaching effects on climate change and on families in the city, said McClure.

Anyone who typically bought a fare or monthly bus pass for children 12 and under previously will save up to $420 a year, he explained.

“As we have such a low vacancy rate and costly rentals in Nelson I think there is a possibility that if a family can find lower cost housing outside our community, and then also be able to have lower personal vehicle use, or maybe not have or need a vehicle at all because they can ride in and out of Nelson on the bus at a reduced rate, … that could be a win for our community and the environment,” he said.

The move will undoubtedly help city families who have used the bus regularly in the past, McClure added, as well as encourage new families to consider public transportation as an option.

“If parents get to feel comfortable that their kids can ride the local transit system by themselves at a young age that gets them all through Nelson, I believe we would also introduce and create long life bus users as they get the experience early in life,” he said.

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