Free bus rides for kids is a start

The Durham College bus loop route 401. Photo credit: Brandon Wright

Mona Emond spends a lot of time helping her clients with transit.

As executive director of North House in Uxbridge, an organization that provides housing supports in north Durham, it should not be her priority – but often it is.

“We had a client that had to go down to Oshawa to see a specialist at the hospital. They couldn’t afford the bus fare, so we provided it for them,” Emond says.

She says their client needed to leave four hours before the appointment to make it on time and wait another three hours after to come home.

“The client was happy to have access to a bus to take them where they had to go,” she says. “But was exhausted by the time they got home because of the length of the wait times and driving times.”

Despite recent improvements to local transit, Emond says there is still work to do.

Durham Region Transit (DRT) has taken steps towards making travel cheaper for some people. Durham Region busses will be free for riders 12-and-under as of May 1.

The motion passed at Oshawa’s council and moved forward to regional council where it was accepted.

John Henry, Durham Regional chair, said the motion of free transit was welcomed at the most recent meeting.

“It was tweaked a bit before getting here,” Henry says. “But in the end, everybody here wants it to be where we brought it to today.”

He explained the desire and passion from conversations within council chambers.

“In today’s day and age, if you have two or three young kids and you’re trying to get to a doctor’s appointment, imagine how costly that could be for families who may be struggling,” Henry says.

Riders between 5 and 12 currently pay a $2.50 fare.

He added the decision was an easy one for council to make but some changes were necessary.

“We had to adjust. When the motion came to council it was simply that 12 and ‘unders’ could travel,” Henry says. “But without supervision we were worried about the possibility of a young person getting on a bus and just going someplace because they wanted to get away.”

Emond says the changes to DRT fares are a good first step.

“Obviously it will represent savings for families who rely on the bus system to get around town,” Emond says. “But I am not sure this benefit is the only one DRT could have approved.”

She suggests the DRT could take into consideration the number of seniors who ride their routes.

“Our senior population is increasingly facing housing instability because their pensions are not enough to pay their bills,” Emond says. “A reduction or ‘ride free’ program for seniors would be a huge benefit to our aging community members, more so, than children 12 and under.”

Emond says there are issues larger than fare in the northern part of the region. She says bus routes are limited and infrequent.

“If people have to take the bus to go anywhere, they would have a five-hour wait to catch a bus to come back home. That is a problem,” Emond says. “In the south, you can catch a bus every 15 or 20 minutes. That’s a huge difference.”

She says the moves made by DRT are appreciated but they should not stop there.

“What people don’t realize is that things are very different depending on your area,” Emond says. “In the north, while we are happy there are busses servicing the area, it would be nice if they made it a little easier and more accessible for people who depend on it.”

Henry says the region and DRT are working on a lot of these things with the help of rider feedback.

“We are now working on a new and upgraded route system in the northern part of the region,” he says. “We are also looking to work on an on-call system in the northern municipalities and I am very excited about that because transit is so key. It’s an equalizer for everyone.”