Public school board loves the idea of free transit on Burlington transit buses for their high school students.

News 100 yellowBy Pepper Parr

September 12th, 2019

BURLINGTON, ON

 

When Mayor Marianne Meed Ward left a city Standing Committee earlier this week she had a nod from her colleagues to have the talk she wanted to have with the Halton District Board of Education about putting students on Burlington Transit buses with a pass that made the service free to use – 24/7

There are some 4500 students who live outside the area that would qualify them for passage on a yellow school bus. Meed Ward wants them on a Burlington transit bus using a student pass that would be free and usable 24/7.

She takes that view even further – she wants transit free for everyone – 24/7.

She goes much further – she thinks transit should be a regional issues and that it should also be free.

Her argument was compelling enough for the school board trustees to pass a resolution urging the trustees, when they are meeting as a Board to make it formal and pass a motion.

Meed Ward + scl bd chair

Halton District School Board chair Andréa Grebenc welcomes Mayor Marianne Meed Ward to the first committee meeting of the year.

The trustees were meeting as a Committee of the Whole where they cannot pass motions. They will meet on Wednesday of next week and in all likelihood pass a motion which will have the school board more on side for the free transit idea than the city. Burlington Councillors don’t meet as a Council until the 23rd when they will have the opportunity to “make it so” as they say on Star Trek.

Mead Ward, who was invited to speak to the trustees (that would have been brought about by Trustee Leah Reynolds asking that the Mayor be invited – the two go back some distance,)

The Mayor’s pitch was twofold: she believed that getting students on buses was an environmental and an economic plus for the city.

Meed Ward told the trustees that there were some 4500 students who lived outside the area that would provide them with school bus passage. As a result parents were driving the students creating traffic chaos at most of the high schools.

The Mayor’s pitch had another angle – giving students free passes was removing barriers now in place that kept students away from opportunities to get to part time jobs, take part in extracurricular events and use the bus to explore their city.

Meed Ward told of her grade 9 experience in Kingston when she got a pass that let her go wherever she wanted on a bus. “It was really empowering” she said. “I was my own person and could go wherever the bus would take me. It helped me grow as a young person to be responsible and to be inquisitive.” She added that the service in those days was 25 cents.

Sue Connor, Director of Transit for Burlington, attended with the Mayor. The Board of Education Superintendent Roxanna Negoi, responsible for transportation, was asked how much the Board spent on bus passes and said it was between $110,000 and $120,000.

Connor, never a slouch when it comes to numbers, opened her binder and said that the public school board spent $115,500 and the Catholic Board spent $10,500.

Mayor Meed Ward knew she was talking to people her understood her language when ward 5 school board trustee Amy Collar said “This has been a long time coming.”

Heather Gerrits - Milton trustee 2019

Milton trustee Heather Gerrits

The Board of Education is made up of representatives from the four municipalities in the Region. Donna Danielli, representing Milton, said there was a concern that some people would feel that their community doesn’t have free bus service – why should yours – and quickly added that the idea was an “incredible vision”. Heather Gerrits, also from Milton said she “loved the idea” and began talking about how she would advocate with both Milton Councillor Colin Best and Milton Mayor Gord Krantz to get Milton going on something similar.

Meed Ward said she would be happy to assist in bring the other municipalities around to the idea and would chat up the other Mayors at Regional Council meetings.

The school board trustees couldn’t do enough and the Director of Education Stuart Miller got onside by saying he would take direction from his board and believed he could have a report ready for early December that would set out what should be in the Memorandum of Understanding that would be put in place and what should be out.

Stuart Miller

Director of Education Stuart Miller.

He was thinking in terms of a high level report that would be ready for the lawyers by the end of the year.

Meed Ward said there “was no moss under our feet”. Amy Collard added “we don’t want this to sit idle”.

You could see where this was going. There is nothing a politician likes more than real forward momentum.

Now to get the public on side and to work out just where the money for those free passes is going to come from.

Sue Connor told the meeting that she has a bus that is about to be retired. She will have it done over with signage and make it an Orientation bus that will travel from school to school and be used for public education on how to use transit as well.

As the meeting was edging towards a close Meed Ward gave Connor that look that said: ‘We clinched this one’ – and indeed they had.

Someone in the room said: “Giddy Up”

Trustee Danielli added that when it come to a new idea “success begets envy”. The hope appeared to be that that envy would result in every municipality wanting free public transit.

Halton Hills unfortunately doesn’t have a transit service.

When Meed Ward moves to make transit a regional service – Halton Hills will be part of that package.

Burlington’s 2014-2018 city council could not get past their view that transit really wasn’t what people in the city wanted. They missed all the signs saying otherwise – or perhaps the signs of the times have changed.

Return to the Front page
Print Friendly

6 comments to Public school board loves the idea of free transit on Burlington transit buses for their high school students.

  • Helen Donohoe

    Free transit for all, everywhere, it will come in due course. It will require a complete rethink on the way we fund of course.

  • Stephen White

    The most vulnerable members of the community (e.g. the elderly, the disabled, those on fixed incomes, students) are the ones who would benefit the most from this initiative. If free transit could directly promote employment, improve access to services and facilities, decrease traffic congestion and increase opportunities, then the costs for underwriting this may well be worth it. At the very least it is deserving of a serious benefit-cost analysis.

    Kudos to the Mayor for her leadership on this issue. And kudos too the Board of Education for at least exploring the merits of this proposal.

  • George

    It is unfortunate that school aged children have to take buses instead of walking to school each day. The Halton District School Board (HDSB) and Trustees only a couple of years ago proposed and voted to close two Burlington high schools thus necessitating the extra bussing requirements. Two of the current Burlington HDSB Trustees, namely Andrea Grebenc and Leah Reynolds, who against the overwhelming and expressed wishes of the citizens of Burlington voted to close Lester B. Pearson High School and Robert Bateman High School.

  • Peter C

    It’s not free, it’s complementary. Someone is paying for it.

  • Greg

    If we can take some school buses off the road in favour of City buses already running, it makes a lot of sense and should be pushed for.

    With respect to the closing comments. I’m not sure the voters in the City want more or better public transit. I don’t think the election results we saw from the municipal election had anything to do with transit. What makes you think the signs are there that Burlington wants transit?

  • S. Griffin

    Yay! It’s about time !

Leave a Reply