Free bus passes for high school students? Some councillors want to try it out

In a bid to boost bus ridership and get more high school students to class on time, a pair of London city councillors want to try a pilot project in September to give free London Transit (LTC) passes to Grade 9 students. A motion by Deputy Mayor Shawn Lewis and Coun. Peter Cuddy is coming before a council committee Tuesday. It calls for the creation of a two-year pilot project to provide free transit passes to Grade 9 students at Clarke Road Secondary School, starting in September. The idea of a bus pass for high school students has been in the works for years, but was stalled during the COVID-19 pandemic.Lewis said it’s time to revive the idea. “When a student misses a bus right now, they often miss the school day,” he said. “Now they can get to class late instead of not at all.”Another plus is it’s a way to boost LTC ridership, which is important for the city to access gas tax revenue and other transit money from senior governments. Lewis also said it gets students accustomed to using transit at a young age. “The real benefit is for the students,” said Lewis.”It gives them transit access so they can easily attend after school clubs and sports activities so that they can have a part-time job.” The idea has the support of both the LTC board and the Thames Valley District School Board.An outlying question though is how the program will be funded. Lewis said the city has access to reserve money through its community investment reserve fund, along with senior government grants.Lewis did say if the pilot project does not generate enough ridership to justify the expenditure, it won’t continue beyond the two-year pilot period. “If other sources don’t come forward to help it, then it will be over,” he said. “Successful or unsuccessful, if we can’t fund it, then we can’t fund it.” Similar programs have been set up in other Ontario municipalities, including Oakville and Kingston, startIng in 2012. Waterloo has a feasibility study underway. A letter coming to council says Kingston’s program saw a threefold growth in transit use by the time the students reached Grade 12. Based on current enrolment numbers, about 227 students would receive passes this September, increasing to a total of 450 the following year. Why only Clarke Road? So why is the project only being considered for Clarke Road Secondary students?Lewis said the school was the board’s choice in part because it’s served by a handful of different LTC routes.”There’s already buses going right to Argyle Mall and the school is right next door,” said Lewis. “There’s no need for London Transit to create new routes, it already has an almost fully serviced catchment area, so it was the perfect school to be given an opportunity to try this.”The LTC already provides passes to Western University and Fanshawe College students through an agreement with those schools, which include the cost in their tuition fees. Kids up to 12 years old can ride free and discounted passes are available through a city program for low-income earners. An adult monthly pass on the LTC costs $122. Get breaking local news wherever you are, download the CBC News app.

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