Starting Sept. 1, high school students living on the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations are eligible for a free BC Transit U-PASS which provides safe, accessible transportation to school.
The Greater Victoria School District, in collaboration with B.C Transit and the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations, aim to improve school attendance by removing transportation costs which can be a barrier for on-reserve Indigenous students.
This September, students in Grade 9 to Grade 12 living on the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations receive a free U-PASS for unlimited access to all bus routes in the region. A trial period ran from May to June and will now be fully implemented as the the Greater Victoria School Board acknowledges the importance of transportation in access to education, said Board Chair Jordan Watters.
The U-PASS is be valid until Aug. 31, 2020 and is funded by the First Nations Student Transportation Fund which comes from the federal government and is dispensed by the Ministry of Education to school boards in the province.
Francine L’Hirondelle, director of education services at the Songhees Nation, noted that education for students living on the reserve is a priority and that a lack transportation can be a barrier to accessing education.
Trisha Chestnutt, education and programs manager for the Esquimalt Nation, pointed out that providing safe and affordable transportation to school is a key factor in getting students to attend. She feels that high school students who use the U-PASS will benefit greatly.
“It is more than appreciated that the school district will be administering the U-PASS program,” said L’Hirondelle. “This is a positive step moving forward with an already good working relationship with the District.”
BC Transit also recognizes the role that transportation plays in accessing education, said Erinn Pinkerton, BC Transit president and chief executive officer.
The program came out of the B.C. Tripartite Education Agreement between the the First Nations Education Steering Committee and the Canadian and the B.C. governments. The Agreement — the first of it’s kind in the country — was signed in January and focuses on making positive changes to the B.C. education system and making transportation service for First Nations students to their respective schools a top priority. The District will be implementing several other programs outlined in the Agreement.
This U-PASS announcement comes on the heels of the City of Victoria’s vote to approve free transit passes for school-aged youth in the city. Prior to this announcement, students under 18 were required to pay $45 per month to access a transit pass.