(Image / BC Transit Twitter)

Victoria City Council has endorsed a proposal to make all public transit in the Capital Region District (CRD) free for riders.

The proposal is described as an environmental action and involves phasing out transit user fees in the CRD and significantly improving bus services to encourage community usage.

To fund free transit, the Council recommends using provincial subsidies, increasing local taxes, or a mixture of both.

The move follows the council’s decision to seek free transit for Victorians 18-years-of age and younger, which was announced in February.

To fund free youth bus passes, the council plans to use revenue from downtown Victoria Sunday street parking, which will no longer be free starting May 1st. The council hopes to introduce free youth bus passes in 2020.

Moving forward

With the proposal for universal free public transit in the CRD endorsed by city council, the municipality is expected to present the proposal to the Victoria Regional Transit System and BC Transit for review.

Earlier this month, Mayor Lisa Helps was appointed a new member of BC Transit’s Board of Directors.

According to the city, vehicle emissions are responsible for over 50% of the community’s carbon output and encouraging residents to switch from personal vehicles to public transit would result in a significant step towards carbon neutrality.

“A climate emergency has been declared by local governments in the Victoria Regional Transit System service area including the Capital Regional District, the Town of View Royal, the District of Highlands, the District of Saanich and the City of Victoria, pledging these municipalities to become carbon neutral by 2030 in order to meet the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) targets to avoid the worst consequences of global warming,” reads the proposal motion.

“In the Victoria Regional Transit System service area, emissions from transportation amount to more than half of community-based carbon emissions. This means that changes in transportation choices in the region have the potential to make the biggest impact toward carbon neutrality and meaningful climate action in line with the climate emergency and IPCC targets.”

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If free transit comes to Victoria, the city will not be the first to introduce a publicly funded transportation system.

In 2017, those who are 18-years-old or younger were granted free bus access in Kingston, Ontario. Meanwhile, the countries of Luxembourg and Estonia already have free transit for all of their citizens.

“In the context of the climate emergency, and with a view toward ensuring access to public
transit for people of all income levels, it is recommended that the City of Victoria endorse the policy of phasing out user fees and substantially enhancing service levels of the public transit system in the Capital Region of British Columbia,” reads the motion.