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Burnaby council endorses free transit for children and youth

All On Board campaign also call for sliding-scale passes based on income
The generation just heading into the phase of life dominated by careers, kids and commutes will most tightly feel the squeeze of Metro Vancouver’s population growth, whether on transit or behind the wheel. Photo Dan Toulgoet

Burnaby city council has unanimously endorsed a proposal to make transit free for everyone under the age of 19.

The city’s mayor and eight councillors voted to back the All On Board campaign, which also calls for monthly passes to be sold on an income-based sliding scale and community service to be an option for fare evaders instead of hefty fines.

Burnaby joined councils from Vancouver, New Westminster and Port Moody that have already endorse the campaign. 

Council passed the motion on Monday, Feb. 25 after hearing from a three-person All On Board delegation.

“There are no words to adequately describe what it is like to live in poverty and see a transit system everywhere you go and know that you cannot afford it,” said Heather McCain, executive director of Citizens for Accessible Neighbourhoods.  

Many low-income individuals in Metro Vancouver are forced to choose between buying a monthly transit pass or buying groceries, McCain said. 

“There is a mental and emotional toll to be continually juggling money and it negatively impacts people’s morale and health,” she said.

McCain said these tough choices put an immense weight on people living in poverty, but politicians “can choose to alleviate this weight.”

While the proposed fare changes would cost TransLink and its funding government bodies money, McCain said the current regime is already costing the province in related costs. She gave some examples: an individual suffering from mental illness can’t get to counselling appointments and is later institutionalized as their mental state deteriorates; People can’t get to potential employment and stay on social assistance; Government funded non-profit agencies cover the cost of passes and fare evasion tickets for low-income clients. 

Fellow delegation member Viveca Ellis told council that free transit for children and youth would build “a generation of transit riders, which is what we need for the environment.”

Council voted unanimously to endorse the proposal in principle in a letter to TransLink. It also voted to ask city staff to study how it could be funded and implemented. 

Coun. Joe Keithley said the vote was “a total no-brainer.”

“This is kind of an advocacy move and the economics can be worked out as we go along,” he said.

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