Students who attend F.H. Collins Secondary School and Vanier Catholic Secondary School and live in the subdivisions along Hamilton Boulevard will be able to ride city buses for free, starting next month.
The program is a joint effort between the City of Whitehorse and the Department of Education, to be offered to more than 200 students.
The department will purchase 100 transit passes at the group rate and provide them to the schools. Students will register at the schools. The first students to sign up for the program will receive the passes.
The passes will be divvied up equally between the two schools at the beginning of the project. Based on usage, the number of passes available at each school may change.
The program will run until the end of June 2013.
It will free up seats on school buses. About 1,700 students in Whitehorse ride school buses, and numbers increase as the weather gets colder, said Paige Parsons, a spokesperson for the Education Department. The three buses that carry students from Hamilton Boulevard to these schools in Riverdale are already quite full, she said. Normal school bus routes will continue to run during this project.
If all the passes are bought, the program will cost the department $21,000, said Parsons. Adding another bus “would be significantly more costly,” she said.
The city will add an extra morning bus to the Riverdale South-Copper Ridge-Granger route. The new bus will leave downtown at 7:40, said transit manager Cheri Malo.
The program is meant to encourage students to use public transit while increasing their independence. But some say more needs to be done to make public transit attractive to youth.
Giving students free transit passes is a good idea, said Chris Rider, executive director of Bringing Youth Towards Equality. The organization “tentatively welcomes” the project, he said. But it doesn’t address all the reasons why young people often don’t use the bus, he said.
“Young people find it difficult to actually catch public transit because it’s not there when they need it,” he said.
Youth have told the organization that they would like to see buses run later, especially around the college. Many buses stop running before classes are finished, he said. And when the buses do run, sometimes students have to wait close to an hour to catch them.
Only one bus route stops at the college. It stops there once an hour from Monday to Saturday. On weekdays, there is one extra stop between 7:50 and 9:50 in the morning and 3:50 and 6:50 in the evening. The latest scheduled stop is at 7:20 p.m. from Mondays to Saturdays. On Friday evenings, there are two later buses, one at 8:20 p.m. and one at 9:20 p.m.
Coun. Jocelyn Curteanu agrees. While she’s pleased with the decision and hopes more organizations use group rates, she thinks transit needs to be offered more during the evening.
“For example, if you lived up in the college and you wanted to come downtown to do some shopping or whatnot, or maybe enjoy some nightlife, well how are you going to get back to your residence without finding a ride with somebody else, taking a taxi or, you know, using transit? Transit would really fill that gap for them.”
Extending transit hours is something that is often talked about, said Malo.
This isn’t the first time the city and department have joined forces to encourage students to use public transit. In May and June, 117 passes were offered to students at these schools. Only 20 passes were used, said Parsons.
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