Currently fares are $2.50 a person, or $5 for a day pass, but those could be eliminated by 2022 (file photo)

Victoria Regional Transit Commission meets to discuss idea of phasing out bus fares

A proposal from the City of Victoria is asking the Commission to find over $40 million elsewhere

The Victoria Regional Transit Commission will be looking at a proposal to eliminate user fares across Greater Victoria, which brings forward a considerable challenge.

Every year, BC Transit pulls in approximately $41 million in revenue from passenger fares across Greater Victoria. This makes up approximately a third of its entire budget, which is topped up with advertising revenue, Gas Tax funds, property tax revenue and funding from the province.

But that hefty chunk of revenue could soon disappear, after the City of Victoria put forward a proposal to phase out passenger fares over the next three years.

READ MORE: City of Victoria passes proposal to eliminate BC Transit fees

In a motion put forward by Coun. Ben Isitt and Coun. Sharmarke Dubow on Thursday night, the city is looking at eliminating transit fees for youth aged 18 and under in the 2020 city budget– thanks to the soon-to-be-instated Sunday parking fees– followed by the elimination of fares for everyone by 2022. The plan also calls for further expansion of transit service, and a larger fleet of electric buses.

While Victoria councillors put it forward, it’s up to the Victoria Regional Transit Commission to make any decisions about fare changes. The commission is made up of Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes, Oak Bay Mayor Kevin Murdoch, North Saanich Mayor Geoff Orr, Colwood Mayor Rob Marin, Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, Sooke Mayor Maja Tait, Victoria Coun. Sharmarke Dubow and chaired by Saanich Coun. Susan Brice.

The group is holding a strategic planning session on Monday to welcome new members and outline goals. Motions and discussions will happen at the first regular meeting on June 11.

ALSO READ: Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps appointed to BC Transit board of directors

The idea to eliminate fees was brought to the City of Victoria by the Community Climate Acton and Divestment group (CCAD), a local advocacy group which was also involved in pushing for a climate action plan in the city.

Juliet Watts is the Chair of CCAD, and said she’s excited to see the idea gaining traction.

“I’m one of the many activists who are tired of hearing that the climate crisis can be stopped by small personal changes,” Watts said.

“I believe that getting rid of financial barriers and getting more electric buses out there is the best way to limit community-based carbon emissions.”

Watts also said that it’s important to start with the youth in order to make green commuting a normal part of life.

“We know similarly it’s used as a rational for bike lanes. If they bike to school they will bike to work; if they bus to school they’re more likely to bus to work, too.”

ALSO READ: Victoria gears up to axe free parking on Sundays

The challenge will now be finding new sources for that extra $40 million annually, something which Isitt said could come from the redistribution, and possible increase, of property taxes.

The province, which currently contributes over $41 million annually, has not reported increasing funds for BC Transit to subsidize fares.

More details about the process will be reported as it becomes available. The Victoria Regional Transit Commission planning session will not be open to the public, but the June 11 meeting will be.

nicole.crescenzi@vicnews.com

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