Free Fares for Children on Saskatoon Transit

 As an invited Stakeholder to the public engagements on the proposed expansion in September 2024 of Free Fares for Children up to (typically) about 13 years of age, BRS provided the following written submission upon completion of the consultations:

Bus Riders of Saskatoon Position Paper – April 15, 2024

Background: During pre-budget discussions in August of 2023. Bus Riders of Saskatoon asked Governance and Priorities Committee to direct Transit to produce a report on the issue.  After consideration of this report Council directed Transit to institute free fares for children effective September 1, 2024. A number of issues need to be resolved prior to this implementation date.

General Principle:  Bus Riders believes that the free child fare initiative be put in place with as few barriers to use as possible.  Any restrictions that are put in place are most likely to have the greatest adverse effects on those who have the fewest resources to overcome them.

 Issue One: Age Range: Rather than age of the child passenger, school placement should be the criteria. This follows principles that are largely reflected in the current fare structure.  The ‘child fare’ applies to Kindergarten to Grade 8.  Eligibility for the high school fare is not dependent on age but applies to those who can produce a valid high school student card.  At the same time, we must be careful not to exclude children of school age who may not be enrolled in school.

Issue Two: Adult Accompaniment: Transit should not be the agency that determines whether or not a child is old enough to ride the bus without the presence of a supervising adult. This reflects current practice. It is assumed that anyone boarding the bus aged five and up who pays the child fare has been deemed capable enough to do so by the adult who is responsible for them. There will be ten year olds who can use the system very well on their own.  There will be fifteen year olds who can not.  Transit is not a child protection agency.

Issue Three: Enforcement: Enforcement of the ‘child free fare’ can not be considered outside of the general fare evasion and enforcement issue and should be accommodated under existing policies. The expense of creating a system of separate identity passes for young children to qualify for the free child fare would be expensive and is not practical. Provision for school verification identification for mature looking children attending elementary schools should be examined, in consultation with the school boards.  One of our members reports that under the current system, her mature looking son who attends elementary school sometimes feels hassled by drivers when he boards paying the child fare. Using transit should be easy, not only for adults but for children too.

 Issue Four: Statistics: Transit’s need for statistical data has been put forward as justification for a pass system.  Although such data would be valuable for future planning, there are less intrusive sampling techniques which would give Transit sufficient amounts of information.

Issue Five: Evaluation: It is unlikely that the new fare structure can be implemented without a few bumps along the way.  It is important to have mechanisms in place to gather ongoing feedback from stakeholders including adult riders, child riders, anti-poverty groups, school division staff and Transit employees.