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New West school board calls for free transit for teens

School trustees backed a call from the Single Mothers' Alliance to make public transit free for youth aged 13 to 18.
Having access to public transit helps teens — especially low-income and at-risk youth — to take charge of their lives and improves their mental health, the New Westminster school board heard Tuesday night. The board voted to back the Single Mothers' Alliance in its call for free transit for B.C. youth aged 13 to 18.

Giving teens free access to public transit can change their lives — literally.

That’s the message the New Westminster school board heard on Tuesday night (Jan. 31) as it voted to support the Single Mothers’ Alliance in its Transit for Teens campaign. The B.C. non-profit group is asking the government to make public transportation free for youth aged 13 to 18 across B.C.

Viveca Ellis, executive director of the Single Mothers’ Alliance, told the board about a pilot project her group took part in in 2021 and 2022 to measure what a difference transit could make in people’s lives in Vancouver.

The study’s participants — families who didn’t have cars and who were living below the poverty line — were given loaded Compass cards giving them access to transit for six months.

“These are very, very low-income families, many of them racialized, many of them Indigenous, living far below the poverty line,” Ellis said. “We heard that their worlds just opened up.”

Youth who were given access to transit started to take part in more extracurricular activities, were able to better access supports like counselling and were able to get to school more regularly.

“Often these families have to hoard bus tickets from social service agencies,” Ellis pointed out. “They have to decide who gets to take the bus — Mom’s got to go to the grocery store, the food bank, so the teen doesn’t get a ticket to go to the basketball court. But we heard that when these teens had no restrictions on their mobility, they started taking charge of their lives.”

She noted that, for some families, the Compass cards meant a parent didn’t have to decide which child got to go to school that day.

The families taking part in the study talked a lot about the impact on teens’ mental health, Ellis said, noting the teens no longer felt “excluded or marginalized” by not being able to get to the places their friends were going.

On top of all of that, Ellis said, her group has heard about many youth who don’t have the money for transit fares getting ticketed for fare evasion.

“We have heard a lot from former youth in care, at-risk youth, who have thousands of dollars of TransLink debt for trying to get where they need to go,” Ellis said. “We would like this practice across the whole province to stop.”

School District 40 board unanimously endorses Transit for Teens campaign

Trustee Danielle Connelly brought forward a motion recommending the board endorse the Single Mothers’ Alliance Transit for Teens campaign, with letters to regional and provincial officials.

Her suggestion found unanimous support at the board table.

Trustee Marc Andres, who’s a teacher in Surrey, said the issue is an important one.

“I see this every day, and it’s not just access to education, but it’s also having that equity of access to experiences, so that every student can participate in all of the things that make up an education, which isn’t just what happens in the classroom, right? It’s to go and hang out with your friends. It’s being able to go to other events. This is hugely important.”

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