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Cambridge trustee proposes free public transit for students

A school bus driver shortage has led to cancelled routes as Jayne Herring asks WRDSB staff look into what it would take to offer free bus passes to secondary students and bus rides free for students up to age 14
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A public school board trustee wants to see free bus rides be offered to students.

At this week's Waterloo Region District School Board meeting, a notice of motion from Jayne Herring asks that school board staff put together a report on the feasibility of providing free bus passes to secondary school students and make bus rides free for students kindergarten to age 14.

Until 2021, Grand River Transit offered reduced fares to all elementary and high school students.

Now, a program offers discounted monthly passes at $46.80 to those that qualify.

For example, a six-person household must make under $65,219.99 per year.

"We had people who certainly made more money than the cap for the Affordable Transportation Program and had two or three students in secondary school. At a cost of, I think it's $90 a month, that does add up over time," said Herring.

She said her idea came from a partnership between the city of Kingston and the public school board there, which allows kids under 14 to ride the bus for free.

Kingston high school students must show a class schedule to get a free transit pass.

"I had a parent provide me with a link to the Kingston Limestone District School Board model and was able to do some research on the weekend. I just noticed that it seemed to be an amazing program and seemed like something we could do here in our region," Herring said.

Her motion points out ongoing efforts to encourage more use of public transportation.

"We're training a whole new generation of people to take public transportation because the students learn when they're young and then certainly through the secondary school years. Eventually, it would hopefully diminish the number of cars that are on the road," she said.

Herring suggests free public transportation for students could be implemented through partnerships between the WRDSB and the region, or local cities and townships.

She also proposes partnerships with local businesses.

"If we have a company that's very interested in the environment, perhaps this may be something that they're interested in sponsoring," Herring said.

Her motion comes as Student Transportation Services of Waterloo Region has warned of rotating school bus delays lasting until at least December.

"My motion really wasn't connected to it. Although if we do think it through, one of the reasons why we're having to cancel routes is the difficulty in finding bus drivers. It doesn't seem to me that Grand River Transit has any difficulties recruiting bus drivers, so perhaps it would be something that could help alleviate some concerns," Herring said. 

She said local community groups are also expressing interest in the proposal. 

"They do realize that free transportation, especially for secondary students, even in terms of an equity of access angle is very important. They have already begun to look into this. This is something that we're just investigating at this time," Herring said.

She expects the report to go back to the WRDSB after the municipal election.