Advocacy groups praise changes for reduced costs of youth transit fare

 MG_4276-THUMBAs of Sept. 1, 2012, Calgary Transit no longer requires youth to be enrolled in school to be eligible for the monthly youth pass.

In the past, youth between the ages of six to 17 who were not enrolled in full-time classes were expected to fork over the cash for an adult bus pass costing $94, as opposed to the youth pass that costs $57.50. This meant that students on summer break, or vulnerable youth that were not attending school were not eligible for the discount.

 During discussions in city council regarding tax supported age-based differential fees and low-income subsidy programs, the United Way for Calgary and area requested Calgary Transit look into the conditions surrounding the youth transit pass.

 MG_4275Young transit riders can benefit from city council’s decision to lower the cost of a monthly transit pass for youth who are currently not attending school

Photo by Aryn GuthrieIt was determined that Calgary Transit could make this change with “minimal financial impact, while benefitting customers in the youth and low-income segments of transit ridership,” said Rick Archer, customer service co-ordinator for Calgary Transit.

In 2011, the United Way for Calgary and area released a report titled: Towards Resiliency for Vulnerable Youth. The report sent out 400 surveys to areas in low-income neighbourhoods, and included a focus group of 70 youth. The report identified the following:

1) Youth under the age of 18 and who are not enrolled in school were not eligible for the youth pass, or the low-income transit pass.

2) Youth found the cost of transit as a barrier to maintaining employment, attending school, and other support services.

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“The cost of transit is really preventing youth from getting to the services they need,” said Charla Vall, senior analyst for the United Way. “Transit is such a key need for everyone, and for youth that can’t access it, it really limits [them].”

Although Archer stated that this change will have a minimal financial impact on Calgary Transit, he said that at this time it is difficult to predict how the decreased price is going to affect them. He stated that there will be costs associated with youth in that age group who previously purchased the adult pass and who have now changed to the youth pass.

Archer added that this might be balanced out by youth who now find the youth pass more affordable.

For the 2011-2012 school year, the Government of Alberta reported that 542,989 students were enrolled in classes from grade 1-12. However, only 72.6 per cent of students in high school complete their diploma in three years, meaning around 30 per cent of students don’t graduate at all.

In the 2011-2012 school year, the United Way partnered with the Burns Memorial Fund to conduct a study that monitored students at James Fowler high school. The study looked closely at 40 students who were given a free transit pass as well as coaching and support while 286 students were given either a bus pass or transit tickets without extra coaching or support. The results showed that the selected students’ attendance was higher than the rest of the school.

“When kids can get to school, and when they can afford to get to school, they are going to go. This is such a great argument to show the city that when they are making policies that make transit more affordable for youth, they are in fact supporting education,” Vall said.

The Alex Youth Centre is a drop-in medical centre that aims to provide services for vulnerable youth. Danene Lenstra, program lead for the Alex Youth Centre, said that at the very least, this change would make transit a little more accessible to youth who are under 18.

“I’m glad that it is finally coming to pass, I think there is some key flaws in our transit system, and I think this is a beneficial change,” Lenstra said.

“It is still not cheap, and if you don’t have the means to buy a bus pass it is irrelevant if it is $100 or $50. But at least it is a little more clear.” 

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