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Langford will support free transportation for youth and seniors at UBCM AGM

Free public transportation for older adults makes for better overall health outcomes

Photo: BC Transit

The Victoria Transit Riders Union recently called on municipalities on Vancouver Island and on the mainland to support its push for free transit for people under the age of 18 and over the age of 65. Both resolutions will be debated during the 2024 UBCM Convention in Vancouver in September. 

On June 3, Langford city council voted unanimously to ask the BC government to implement legislation that would make transit free for youth and seniors. 

For an aging population, access to public transportation is a mobility justice issue but, more broadly, it is a social justice issue. For people living in the Westshore without a vehicle or who have had to give up driving, dependable, safe and accessible public transportation may be key to their wellbeing. Driving cessation, frequently due to poor eyesight, declining physical and mental health is particularly difficult because of its link to social isolation. In turn, social isolation can have several adverse outcomes, such as decreased participation in activities, poor mental health, and overall decline in quality of life.

Coun. Colby Harder who raised the motion to Langford council said “Losing the ability to drive really does have negative ramifications moving forward.” She spoke to her own personal experience noting “that it does result in a higher chance and risk of social isolation, and, of course, the adverse health and well being effects that come from that loss of independence.”

In its recently released “Ageing Matters: Listening to B.C. Seniors” report, the Office of the Seniors Advocate in BC says, “Seniors cite transportation as being one of the most common barriers they experience, particularly in small and rural communities where access to public transportation may be limited.” 

Older adults, compared to other people, tend to make fewer and shorter trips on transit. So the demographic shift will require changes to municipal and regional transport plans that support the travel needs of the Westshore’s aging population. The move to make public transit available to elders 65 and up for free is part of Langford’s consideration of the needs of older residents in the region.

For elders, it’s not just a matter of simply catching the bus. An older adults’ experience of taking public transport includes concerns about the distance to and from the bus stop, trip planning, getting safely onto and off the bus, finding a seat, carrying items on the bus, and knowing when to call for a stop. Most of these are things younger riders do without reflection. 

Transit has to be easy and affordable. One of the key recommendations of the 2021 “BC Seniors: Falling Further Behind” report on challenges facing low-income seniors was to “provide a free annual province-wide bus pass for all seniors that includes handyDART”.

For seniors with fixed incomes, “this is one way that we can advocate for having more opportunities to make fiscal changes in our family's lives as well.” said Coun. Kimberly Guiry.

Low-cost or free public transit options represent a significant financial break for people with limited incomes. They also support independent living and a sense of freedom for people once they are no longer able to drive. Free public transportation increases older adults’ ability to participate in important daily activities, such as healthcare appointments but also opportunities to socialize with friends and family. 

A robust transit network helps older people to continue to live independently and continue to explore and enjoy life in a meaningful way. 

The benefits of increased use of public transportation extends to the environment. Encouraging seniors to use public transit helps reduce the number of single-occupancy vehicles on the road, lowering carbon emissions in the region. 

A 2014 Local Westshore Area Transit Plan indicated that only 1.6% of internal travel within the Westshore occurred on transit compared with 7.9% of internal travel within the core municipalities. Since then, major investments in service levels of local transit by municipalities and the province in the Westshore have occurred that increase the ability of older people to remain connected throughout the Westshore, as well as Victoria.  

In fact, the 2021 RapidBus Implementation Strategy classified the Westshore RapidBus Line as the highest priority corridor for RapidBus in the Victoria region. In May of last year, BC Transit launched the Blink Rapid Bus line connecting the Westshore with downtown Victoria. Most significantly, the rapid line significantly improved connections between the local Westshore bus network and services to the Victoria General Hospital and improved the number of destination options for residents of both Colwood and Langford. 

Sooke Route 61 also saw significant all-day service improvements. Other Westshore route extensions now provide service to Millstream Road and Bear Mountain. Trips that serve downtown now also extend to growing residential neighbourhoods on Happy Valley Road and Latoria Road. 

All of these improvements make it far easier for older people municipalities throughout the Westshore to get about, remain independent and contribute to lowering the region’s climate emissions.