Barrie City Council votes to push forward with free transit proposal for high school students

Council agreed to an amendment that the plan not be contingent on support from the health unit

Barrie City Council voted on Monday to move forward with a plan that would provide free transit rides to local high school students.

Councillor Ann-Marie Kugl got support for her amendment to drop the stipulation that free transit be contingent on the support from the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit.

“At this time we’ll look to the health unit to continue to implement due diligence and public safety, and see what we can provide within the current limitations while we are still seeing impacts of COVID and COVID rates in the region.”

Councillor Gary Harvey said removing the section would enable the program to succeed and occur.

Staff told city council that the current capacity limitation on transit buses due to COVID-19 is 20 and that would not change unless there was direction from the health unit.

Councillor Robert Thomson was concerned if limitations were removed, it opened up the door to possible labour action by bus drivers.

Staff will consult with the school boards and the Simcoe County Student Transportation Consortium to investigate the feasibility of providing free transit service to Barrie high school students during afternoons until December 31. Councillor Mike McCann said some secondary students are done their day at 12:30 p.m. due to COVID-19 but have to wait several hours for a school bus.

At the same time, staff will explore the merits of free Barrie Transit for local high school students throughout the school year.

Council will be receiving two separate reports.

Both McCann and Councillor Jim Harris raised concerns that based on current ridership limitations, at certain periods of the day buses could be crowded with high school students, leaving no room for passengers to use the service to go shopping or for senior’s going to doctor’s appointments.

Staff said there were operational concerns to consider, especially in areas where there are schools with 1,500 students.

Those details are expected to be hashed out in the upcoming reports.