The idea of user-fee free bus travel seems to be gaining traction, as policy makers and youth activists explore how citizens can shrink their carbon footprints.
In recent weeks, no user-fee bus travel has been discussed across B.C. and in Greater Victoria’s municipalities, with Central Saanich Council voting Monday to request the Saanich Peninsula’s Transport Commissioner appear before them to discuss transport issues, including free transit. And the idea doesn’t seem limited to council, with growing community support seen, especially in schools.
The Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association came out in support of the idea May 8, calling for “free, expanded transit in response to the climate emergency.”
The week before, a Grade 12 student at Stelly’s, Hunter Lastiwka, polled a representative cross section of the school and found his fellow students 94 per cent in favour of no user-fee transit.
On May 24, Parkland School is hosting a big debate on the issue, while student groups at UVic are gearing up for a campaign on the issue soon.
Add the two Greater Victoria school walk-outs and an Extinction Rebellion march, and it appears that climate change and sustainability have emerged as key issues for youth.
Buoyed by such events and mobilized across the world through the internet, a new generation of student leaders appears to be emerging, with some calling environmental concerns “our generation’s Vietnam.”
Lastiwka is one of a growing number of engaged youth; running recycling initiatives, doing charity work in Africa, speaking at a Community Earth event and the ProRep Rally. Last summer he travelled to Parliament Hill and spent a week as the guest of Green Party leader Elizabeth May, talking to politicians and cabinet ministers about sustainability.
Lastiwka, like many of the new breed of activist, are articulate high-achievers, determined to be heard. He’s set to study international economics at UBC on a big scholarship, keen to approach environmental issues by linking human experience to hard data.
While the sample referendum of Grade 9 to 12 Stelly’s students is certainly not a complete picture of all students’ feelings across B.C., it does provide an insight into the current youth mood.
“We all know the climate is changing, but a lot of us think just doing our composting is going to save the world, but it’s not going to happen. If we can have efficient green transit in our cities, I see that as a solution. But there needs to be an incentive. I think the only way to begin this is the incentive of free bus passes.”
Lastiwka adds that user-fee free bus passes should start with youth to normalize bus travel later in life. He also says increasing ridership would force BC Transit to add more buses and routes, making it a cheap, attractive alternative for commuters.
Many youth activists see this issue as an important first step on the road to a more sustainable future, such as creating jobs in clean energy and diverting excess Canadian hydroelecric power from U.S. markets back to Canadian provinces.
The big question remaining is how to pay for it. Passenger revenues in the Victoria Regional Transit System as a whole were $40.8 million in 2017/18.
With the recent youth climate movement showing no signs of abating, the debate is likely to continue.