TransLink should immediately stop ticketing youths for fare evasion so they no longer accumulate the kind of debt that can affect their credit history for years, according to the #AllOnBoard campaign for free transit for youths.
What’s happening, said Viveca Ellis, coordinator for the campaign, is that young people end up with what’s known as “TransLink debt” that they can’t repay. That debt can follow them around for years and prevent them from getting a driver’s licence.
“We’re asking TransLink to immediately end the harm of ticketing,” she said.
“It’s the bad credit that really sets people up for lifelong poverty.”
Transit, she said, should be as funded in the same way as education and health care.
“If we had an equitable fare structure, including free transit for children and youth and a sliding scale for adults, we would have accessibility built in for the lifespan of all community members. We would not have people in the position of having to steal a bus ride because they can’t afford it.”
Ellis said the #AllOnBoard campaign has discovered thousands of low income youths with TransLink debt. Once the debt goes to a collection agency, a person may be prohibited from getting a driver’s licence and/or renewing their vehicle insurance.
Last year, TransLink said it wrote an estimated 16,000 fare evasion tickets at $173 each. Of that number, less than four per cent, or about 640, were written to minors. If a fare evasion ticket is unpaid after one year, it can increase by $100.
A TransLink official said earlier that the the cost of providing free access to riders up to age 18 “would be in the tens of millions a year.” But the official said TransLink couldn’t provide a more detailed answer until it studies the issue in more depth.
In a survey in November and December last year, #AllOnBoard asked 24 youths if they had fare evasion fines. Some said they had paid off their fines; others replied by saying “I have like 4,” “Over $500” and “800.”
Not being able to get a driver’s licence was identified as the main impact of their fare evasion debt.
“I couldn’t get my licence,” one youth said in the survey. “I owed so much from years ago and even being on the platform without my ticket validated when I had a book of tickets to use but the officer wouldn’t let me validate it when I was in a rush.”
Ellis said what the campaign has also found is that there are at least 11 different programs operated by charities and non-profits in Vancouver that pay off TransLink debt for at-risk youths. That means groups supported by city taxpayers end up paying the debt so the youths can access services.
That makes no sense to Vancouver Coun. Jean Swanson.
“It’s just a ridiculous, vicious circle,” Swanson said.
At Tuesday’s council meeting, Swanson’s motion for the city to endorse the #AllOnBoard campaign was moved to Wednesday. Eighteen people have signed up to speak about the motion.
#AllOnBoard has already has the support of Port Moody and New Westminster.
Last year, Seattle city council voted to spend $7 million ($9.1 million Canadian) to provide free bus passes to 16,000 high school students.
Calgary Transit addresses poverty in its sliding-scale fares based on income. A low-income monthly pass ranges from $5.30 for a single person household earning $12,699 or less to $53 a month for a household of seven people earning $56,997 to $67,055.
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