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Advocating for free transit ridership in Kelowna for 13-18 year olds

Okanagan Transit Alliance behind petition to support initiative

The Okanagan Transit Alliance (OTA) is part of a grassroots movement across the province seeking to provide free transit for youth ages 13-18.

Connor Watson, a volunteer with OTA, made a pitch for support of a petition advocating support of free transit for youth at the Central Okanagan Board of Education meeting Wednesday evening (April 10).

From the OTA perspective, Watson said the initial focus is on free ridership for youth in Kelowna, but the goal would be to see that policy expand to include Lake Country, Peachland and West Kelowna.

In an open letter sent by OTA to the provincial government, three regional districts in the Okanagan and president of BC Transit, the organization states British Columbians are facing many simultaneous crises – the rising cost of living, climate change impact and difficulty accessing affordable and appropriate housing.

“A good transit system is essential to building a strong communities that are more affordable for the people who live in them,” the letter states, repeating past provincial government funding statements regarding transit service.

In the Okanagan, the letter says public transit is stagnating – 73 per cent of Kelowna residents, 82 per cent of Penticton residents and 79 per cent of Vernon residents are not transit users.

“Meanwhile, transportation is the largest source of emissions in British Columbia, and is the second largest expense in most Canadian households.”

OTA points out surveys have shown nearly 50 per cent of Victoria residents are transit users and 57 per cent of Kelowna residents would like to be transit users.

“This means that with the right mix of incentives and quality service, significant ridership is possible.”

The letter continues that while the province has committed $1.2 billion in transit investments over the next decade, those investments focus on upgrading existing services – new fare technologies, electric buses and park and rides.

“To provide a service that can be a legitimate alternative to personal vehicles, we need to expand service and provide new incentives to switch.”

In his presentation to trustees, Watson said the free transit for youth is a powerful incentive to enlist in increasing ridership.

Watson said a pilot project research project for the City of Vancouver on free transit service for 13-18 year-olds established awareness of four key pillars:

• free transit opens up access to school, after-school programs, volunteering and social activities

• parents reported a greater sense of inclusion, self-worth and mental well-being, being able to move freely without persecution and judgment or impacting their sense of belonging and connectedness.

• youth were able to increase access to services and supports they needed

• Unlimited transit access for youth increased their confidence to explore opportunities and activities, no longer feeling left behind and left out of activities and opportunities due to their socioeconomic status

“That accessibility to youth can mean everything from getting to school, to access to programs or activities, to access to a part-time job,” Watson said.

The trustees endorsed the free transit goal, agreeing to write letters of support for the campaign to local municipal governments.

Trustee Wayne Broughton said as a regular transit user himself, he sees the value of the no-fee ridership initiative for young people.

“The one thing I notice is we have a lot of middle school students in Kelowna who ride transit and are lined up at the transit stops after school,” he said.

“I would think for our transit service to adopt this they might have to add more buses on certain routes at certain points of the day.”

Trustee Julia Fraser added the benefit to low-income household youth to help access activities “would be a big help.”

Barry Gerding

About the Author: Barry Gerding

Senior regional reporter for Black Press Media in the Okanagan. I have been a journalist in the B.C. community newspaper field for 37 years...
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