For many years, Metro Vancouver families didn’t have to drive on weekends and special occasions.
They didn’t have to spend money on gas because they can ride transit for free on Sundays and holidays.
All they needed was for one member of the family to have a pre-paid monthly pass.
With a single monthly fare card, two adults and four children under the age of 13 can go anywhere.
When TransLink was preparing to introduce fare gates and the Compass card, the Straight asked the spokesperson then of the agency about what will happen to this family benefit.
“All we can tell you right now is that the offering will still be there,” Ken Hardie said in a May 2012 phone interview. “How it will work—at this point, we don’t have that detail for you.”
Hardie, now a Liberal MP for Fleetwood — Port Kells, also said at the time: “There’ll be a process by which people can still use their monthly pass in the same way they do now.”
More than a year later, TransLink announced that it was cutting its fare discount programs, including free travel for families on Sundays and holidays.
“This is about equity and fairness in the system,” Bob Paddon, then TransLink executive vice president for strategic planning and public affairs, said in a July 2013 statement.
According to Paddon, “some programs benefitted a select few people”. The free family rides were discontinued effective January 1, 2014.
Jonathan Cote was a councillor with the City of New Westminster at the time when the transportation authority discontinued free rides for families.
Now the city mayor, the father of three young girls recalls how he felt about the move.
“I was disappointed with the decision,” Cote told the Straight in a phone interview. “As you know, as someone with a young family, and obviously knowing many people were in similar situations, you know, I thought it was a good benefit that really actually encouraged families to use transit.”
With the ongoing review by TransLink of the current fare system, Cote said that there is an opportunity to bring up the restoration of the family benefit.
According to the first-term mayor, he will discuss the matter when TransLink consults elected local officials in the Lower Mainland as part of the fare-review process.
“The issue of encouraging families to use transit and make it economically viable, I think, is still really important in our transit system,” Cote said.
Cote can personally relate to the issue of getting families on transit.
“I’ve got three kids and even though we live relatively close to a SkyTrain station, even if we just want to take a trip on there, we start to add the cost,” the New Westminster mayor said. “And if driving becomes substantially cheaper than taking transit then, that certainly can affect people’s motivations on how they might be choosing to get around.”
According to Cote, the removal of the weekend benefit “did have a bit of a negative impact” for many families.
Cote acknowledged that the fare gates and Compass card system that require riders to tap in and tap out could pose technical challenges to bringing back the family benefit.
However, the New Westminster mayor believes that a way can be found to have children ride with their parents on transit at discounted or free rates.
This may be easier for buses, but Cote is not convinced that a solution can’t be found for the fare gates in SkyTrain stations.
Cote said: “It would require some technical work, but, you know, I want to put it on the table.”