Regina city council approved a 25-year public transit master plan at its Wednesday afternoon meeting.
The plan, which was released last month, aims to create a more accessible and sustainable public transit system in Regina.
The plan includes changes such as expanded routes and all diesel buses replaced with electric vehicles by 2040, along with changes to the 11th Avenue transit hub in downtown Regina.
A more immediate effect of the plan would see children 12 and under riding the bus for free.
One advocate for free student transit say that's a step in the right direction, but would like to see the city implement free transit for everyone under 18.
Florence Stratton is a community peace and justice advocate in Regina. A letter she wrote to city council, included in the related reports council will consider Wednesday, says the current plan for youth fees is not good enough.
"It's better, but not sufficient," she said in an interview with CBC. "What about those aged 13 to 18? They still need to get to school as well as to other places — appointments, sports and social events and so on."
She says that "in the name of accessibility, equity and inclusion," she'd like to see free transit for everyone 18 and under, "as a first step toward fare free transit for all."
Regina Public School Board vice-chair Sarah Cummings Truszkowski says accessible transit is one of many challenges for students living in poverty.
The cost of a monthly bus pass is not something families below the poverty line can afford, she said in a letter submitted to city council.
"[These] families face a mountain of crippling expenses.… Free public transportation for all children up to age 18 would lift one major barrier for those students living in poverty to succeed in life," she said.
"These students would have better school attendance and in turn, these students would improve their graduation rates and success in life."
Barriers to public transit
Stratton said the fare itself is the main barrier to people accessing Regina transit, adding families living below the poverty line are not able to afford the current $64 monthly transit passes for their kids.
She said recently she was on the bus and a teenage girl was denied entry because her R-Card — the smart card that can be loaded with transit fares — was empty.
"Fortunately, the bus was there for a while because it took fellow passengers a while to collect our wits and realize we should go and pay for this teenager.… When this girl got back on the bus, she was crying," Stratton said.
"Nobody should be refused a transit ride under any conditions for the lack of a fare."
The transit plan includes looking into the feasibility of offering fare free transit for high school students under the age of 18. It states that any such decision will have to be discussed with stakeholders and the provincial government before being approved.
The plan states that if free transit for high school students is not possible, other discount options will be explored.
The community engagement portion of the transit master plan states that the city gathered community and staff surveys, as well as comments from social media and an online idea generation board.
It found that 84 per cent of those surveyed were in support of fare free transit for those 12 and under, and 94 per cent were in favour of discounted student fares.