City dangling free transit for Barrie high school students

One option is free transit until the end of the year to deal with new school bus protocols around COVID-19

City Council general committee has voted to take two different roads that in the end could ultimately lead to free rides on Barrie Transit for local high school students.

Councillor Mike McCann got the thumbs up from general committee to have staff 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 until December 31, 2020.

As well, committee backed Counillor Keenan’s Aylwin’s motion that staff explore the merits of free Barrie Transit for local high school students throughout the school year.

McCann said he brought his item up for discussion because with the new regulations in place at secondary schools due to COVID-19 some students are done the day at 12:30 p.m. but have to wait until 2:30 p.m. for a school bus.

Free transit service would only be provided within one hour following the end of school time at bus stops adjacent to high schools. The freebie would be contingent on support from the health unit to remove passenger capacity limits on Barrie Transit, which is currently at 20 because of COVID-19.

McCann said he didn’t want to swamp transit buses with high school students and leave other passengers unable to ride because they were at capacity.

“We don’t want to bombard the city buses with only high school students because there are people that rely on city transit to get to work or wherever they have to go, like shopping centres.”

Staff told council they could not predict what the utilization would be but based on hourly service and the fact high schools have more than 1,000 students, the capacity could run out pretty quickly.

Council was told the City is likely going to introduce some increased transit service in the future, probably starting with a return to half hourly service on core routes which would cover many of the high schools but not all of them.

Councillor Aylwin used the City of Kingston as an example where free transit is offered throughout the school year and was first tested with Grade 9 students.

“Eventually it became a program where all high school students in the City got a pass. The school boards actually paid into the transit system to subsidize those passes because it saved them money in bussing costs.”

Staff said rather than tackle both proposals at once, they would deal with McCann’s motion first because it was more time sensitive, and discussion’s around Aylwin’s recommendation could take longer with the school boards and bus companies.

Both motions require approval from full council at next week’s meeting.