Sooke Coun. Jeff Bateman wants to see youth and people in need receive free transit passes for local bus routes. (File - Sooke News Mirror)

Sooke councillor pitches another way to improve transit

Coun. Jeff Bateman wants free passes for youth on local routes

A Sooke politician is pitching another idea to increase local ridership on B.C. Transit.

B.C. Transit wants to expand local routes in the region early next year as part of the Sooke Local Area Transit Plan, and Coun. Jeff Bateman wants to see a two-year pilot program offering free bus service to youth and those in need.

“I think it would be worth trying,” Bateman said.

“The key thing with this one here is we have these new local routes, what’s the point of sending these buses out there without people on them?”

Bateman said it would also encourage more residents to take the bus – even after the program ends.

But Mayor Maja Tait, a member of the Victoria Regional Transit Commission, doesn’t support a free bus program. Instead, she wants to see expanded service for regional and local routes.

She agrees a free bus program would increase ridership but at the cost of adding more buses and more service, which could be unaffordable for local taxpayers.

“Sooke doesn’t have anything to generate money. It would need to be funded by property taxes or substantial service cuts,” Tait said.

Passenger revenue accounts for less than 30 per cent of the Victoria Regional Transit System’s $147-million operating budget. The rest comes from the provincial government, local property taxes and a 5.5-cent-a-litre gas tax, with the latter providing something like $19 million.

Late last year, the City of Victoria agreed to a free bus program for youth. It costs Victoria about $81,000 a month. To get the cheapest rate of $11.25 per pass, the city had to buy enough passes for all 7,200 youth in the city, whether they use the passes or not.

Coun. Al Beddows said if a free bus program is offered, it should be done on a regional basis.

“It shouldn’t balkanize the region and pit community against community. It has to be all or nothing.”

Bateman said local transit service is considered inadequate by residents, but if not used, it could be lost.

“I don’t want local taxpayers shouldering the load, but maybe B.C. Transit would see the wisdom in this [proposal].

RELATED: 500 free youth transit passes picked up at Victoria’s City Hall

RELATED: Saanich councillor questions effectiveness of free transit passes for youth



editor@sookenewsmirror.com

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