The City of Victoria has endorsed a proposal to have free transit in the Capital Region. Photo courtesy CBC.

The City of Victoria has endorsed a proposal to have free transit in the Capital Region. Photo courtesy CBC.

City council has endorsed a proposal to phase out transit fees within the Capital Region.

Council voted 8-1 in favour of the proposal at Thursday morning’s committee of the whole meeting. The proposal was introduced by Coun. Ben Isitt and Coun. Sharmarke Dubow. Geoff Young was the only councillor who voted against the proposal.

In the proposal, Isitt and Dubow recommended council endorse the ” Climate Action through a Major Expansion of Public Transit Ridership” resolution by embracing “determined climate leadership” through a major expansion of public transit ridership in the Capital Region, focused on the phasing out of user fees and a substantial improvement in service levels and fleet electrification.

The resolution also states council should develop a plan for free transit within the Capital Region as a form of climate action, also being sure to include enhanced service levels and fleet expansion to meet increased demand, in conjunction with fleet electrification.

The resolution also includes making a plan to implement the new policy with a pilot program in the 2020 budget eliminating user fees for people 18 years of age and younger, replacing
revenues currently generated through fares with adjustments to provincial transfers and the property tax requisition.

“Nothing is free. Right now, transit is funded through three-and-a-half mechanisms. One is through the fare box, through provincial subsidy, through property taxes and through the gas tax. So we would need to look at, with the transit commission and the province, what would the funding source be? Is it increase the gas tax? Is it increase property taxes? Is it increase provincial tax?” Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said.

“Let’s not let people tell us something is impossible while we’re in the middle of doing it. This is the direction we need to move as a region. It’s the direction we need to move as a globe.”

The City of Victoria is already working on the plan to provide free transit to all youth in the region between age six and 18 with the funding coming from Sunday on-street paid parking, which takes effect in May.

Isitt and Dubow’s motion reads: “A climate emergency has been declared by local governments in the Victoria Regional Transit System service area including the Capital Regional District, the Town of View Royal, the District of Highlands, the District of Saanich and the City of Victoria, pledging these municipalities to become carbon neutral by 2030 in order to meet the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) targets to avoid the worst consequences of global warming.”

The motion states emissions from transportation amount to more than half of community-based carbon emissions.

“This means that changes in transportation choices in the region have the potential to make the biggest impact toward carbon neutrality and meaningful climate action in line with the climate emergency and IPCC targets,” the proposal reads.

The proposal lists Luxembourg and Estonia as examples of two countries where free public transit is already being rolled out. Kingston, Ont. also has a free transit program for youth.

Now that council has endorsed the resolution at the committee of the whole, the proposal will be brought to city council Thursday night.

The city will then reach out to the Victoria Regional Transit Commission and mayors and councils of other local governments in the Capital Region by April 26, requesting consideration and resolution of support.