Free bus rides for Saskatoon children recommended by council committee

By: Jeremy Warren - CBC News (June 4, 2024 - 8:03pm)

No bus pass or ID needed as kids will self-verify age when asked

Elementary school-aged kids won't need a special bus pass or identification to ride city buses for free, under a new policy heading to city council.

Once the plan is approved, Saskatoon Transit will waive bus fares starting Sept. 1 for kids in kindergarten to Grade 8. An elementary school fare currently costs $2.25.

The new policy will run on the honour system, with kids self-verifying their grade or age when asked by bus drivers. The school-aged kids won't need an adult to ride with them to qualify for a free fare.

City council's standing policy committee on transportation made the recommendations at its Tuesday meeting. 

Transit advocates welcome the changes.

"Saskatoon is one of the few cities in Western Canada that doesn't have this," said Robert Clipperton, who sits on the steering committee of Bus Riders for Saskatoon. "In B.C., free fares for children 12 and under is mandated throughout the province."

Clipperton said free fares will get more kids riding the bus, and that could turn them into lifelong transit users.

"It's an investment in future ridership. The higher your ridership level is, the more effective and extensive transit service you can offer," Clipperton said.

Coun. Darren Hill agreed.

"I think we need to create a new generation of bus riders in Saskatoon and this is one small step to doing that," Hill said during the committee meeting.

Currently, kids aged five and under ride for free with an adult. An elementary school pass for kids in kindergarten to Grade 8 costs $50 per month or $550 for a year.

Saskatoon Transit revenue from youth fares is about $200,000 annually. Saskatoon has more than 47,000 residents under the age of 13, according to the most recent census data.

The City of Regina made a similar move in 2022 and reported a 260 per cent increase in ridership of youth under 13. The city expected to lose $81,000 in revenue from child fares, but reported it made all the money back from adults deciding to ride with their kids.

The Saskatoon Transit report that went to committee said the bus drivers' union, ATU Local 615, wanted the city to implement a children's bus pass or require ID for free fares to help verify ages. Otherwise, older youths and adults could exploit the free fare, leading to more disputes with drivers, the union said.

A survey of transit employees also found concerns about the safety of unaccompanied young children and increased disruptions from older children.

Final approval requires a vote at a future city council meeting. The report said a marketing push will happen prior to the proposed Sept. 1 launch date.