Small riders – Big futures


GO Transit’s Kids GO Free program aims to welcome the youngest customers so they can enjoy public transit long after they become adults.

There are universal first memories most adults keep safe inside.

The sound of the ice-cream truck driving around their neighbourhood and the groans of parents quickly scrambling for enough loose change. The sight of that birthday present you prayed for. The touch of a first pet that wasn’t really allowed up on your bed, but that’s usually where it slept.

And, of course, a bus or train trip when you were hardly tall enough to look out the window.

There’s magic and adventure in those memories – and those travels.

Public transit journeys are not just a rite of passage for generations of children. Those trips on trains and buses, excited while seated next to a parent or grandparent, are usually the first times youngsters begin to understand the layout and connections of streets and communities far beyond their own.

It’s where the wider world unfolds for young eyes.

GO Transit understands the potential of those first rides for our youngest customers.

In March, Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster announced that a successful pilot project that took place last year – allowing children 12 and under to ride for free on the Barrie line – would become practice and practical across the entire GO Transit system.

Grandparents could take their grandkids to a museum on a day off from school, or parents could more easily afford to take their brood to a pool two communities over. Urban exploration, with kids in tow, was suddenly less exhausting on the wallet and nerves.

The big change for little ones, announced in time to take advantage of family trips over March break, was quickly heralded as a win on social media. Often using all caps, many parents enthusiastically said the program opened up possibilities and saved families money for other things.

A launch event at Union Station saw a steady stream of children eager to pose with mascot GO Bear and parents happy to talk about a program that made family travelling easier and cheaper.

Soon after the announcement of the program, Toronto radio and TV personality Taylor Kaye, who often chronicles life with her young daughters, tweeted: “We love FREE!!!”

Kevin Forget, a former broadcaster and now media relations coordinator for Ontario Travel, tweeted to his more than 16,000 followers: “This is the 1st time my boys have taken the GO train. Kids 12 and under ride for FREE!”

They were among a chorus of parental voices who welcomed a more seamless journey across the Greater Golden Horseshoe region. Children already travel for free on UP EXPRESS and on the TTC.

“We know this is so much more than taking children from point A to point B,” says Mark Childs, Metrolinx’s chief marketing officer.

“The energy at the Union Station launch event, and from all the social feeds I was following, was very much one of excitement for parents and kids – some taking GO for the first time.”

That, he adds, leaves lasting transit first impressions and a solid investment in future ridership.

Research, and the results of the trial on the Barrie line, says Childs, showed it was an idea that would benefit families as well as GO Transit. The trial saw a 17% increase in weekend ridership, as well as a 7% rise on weekdays.

The move also makes transit more accessible to more families, opening up a world of potential for new journeys.

Having kids use and understand the benefits of public transit today will inspire them to be active users and champions of trains and buses when they become adults.

The adventure begins the first time a child – and a family – steps onto a bus or train platform.

It’s about getting young people excited about GO, which is expanding service for their future, and inspiring adults to consider new reasons to GO where they could go next.

It’s also about shaping those early memories that drive us into the future as adults.

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