What Guelph can learn from Kingston's free bus program for youth

via Guelph Today

Guelph Mayor Cam Guthrie announced last week that he wants free transit for high school students and children under 13.

Three hours northeast, the City of Kingston has had such a program for almost eight years, and it's thriving.

Given the similarities of the two cities (Kingston's population is 136,000) there is a lot Guelph can learn from Kingston's Free Secondary School Transit Program.

“A lot of what they’re doing in Kingston is really what we want in Guelph but it’s really about getting used to using transit and using cars less,” says Steven Petric, chair of the local transit advocacy group Transit Action Alliance of Guelph.

In 2012, Kingston City Council implemented a pilot project that gave each Grade 9 student a fully-subsidized transit pass. One grade was added each subsequent year until all high schoolers had a free pass.

The project is a partnership between the City of Kingston, Kingston Transit and Limestone District School Board.

It costs around $250,000 annually (including lost revenue), with the city paying roughly $75,000 of that. The school boards and provincial funding pays the rest.

In that first year, students accounted for approximately 28,000 rides. That number now sits at 600,000 rides annually and accounts for 10 per cent of Kingston Transit’s total ridership.

It all began the same way a Guelph program might have: with a mayor's want.