News / Edmonton

Free transit passes extended to 600 Edmontonians

PATH builds on success of Youth Transit Access Project to help people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

Elias Thompson, age 18, is one of the at-risk youth who qualifies for a free transit pass as part of the Youth Transit Access Project. The project has since expanded to include homeless people or those are risk of homelessness.

Kevin Tuong/For Metro

Elias Thompson, age 18, is one of the at-risk youth who qualifies for a free transit pass as part of the Youth Transit Access Project. The project has since expanded to include homeless people or those are risk of homelessness.

A new City of Edmonton project will give free public transit passes to 600 people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

The PATH (Providing Accessible Transit Here) program, announced Tuesday, expands on a pilot project with several social agencies that targeted at-risk youth.

The Youth Transit Access Project helped 100 people and its success led the city to expand it to include adults.

“The bus pass helped me a lot to get out more,” said 18-year-old Elias Thompson, who obtained a bus pass through Native Counselling Services of Alberta.

“If it wasn’t for this program where I could get a bus pass each month, I’d probably still be sitting in my room playing games, doing nothing.”

Thompson said having access to free transit has allowed to him to get out and apply for jobs, attend school more often and get to basketball games.

Trent Pierre, 18, shared a similar experience.

He started working full-time two-and-a-half years ago so he could afford to move out at age 17, and he continues to work while finishing Grade 12 at school.

“It’s helped me tremendously,” said Pierre, who also connected with the pass through Native Counselling Services.

“I don’t have to worry about going out to buy a bus pass every month, or having to save money or put money away for a bus pass. I just know that the bus pass will be there so I can continue with what I’m doing.”

The iHuman Youth Society, Boyle Street Education Centre, Old Strathcona Youth Society, Youth Empowerment Support Services and the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights worked with the city to roll out the initial pilot.

Its goal is to help people get to school and work, find housing, get food, attend medical appointments and access social services.

Mayor Don Iveson said the conversation started with former Human Services Minister Manmeet Bhullar, who passed away in 2015, when he raised concerns about vulnerable people entering the justice system due to warrants over unpaid transit tickets.

The Alberta government has since changed legislation to end arrests for bylaw infractions and unpaid tickets.

“Our aggressive enforcement of our fare policies, while it really looked good and like we were getting tough on the rules in the system, was actually creating mayhem for vulnerable young people who already had enough to deal with – and was creating a ton of work for our peace officers, a ton of work for our lawyers to prosecute these issues, a ton of work in the court system,” Iveson said.

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Council passed a motion in June 2015 to draw up proposals for a program that would give vulnerable youth access to the transit system, and that motion resulted in the Youth Transit Access Project.

In January 2017, the project was expanded to include adults and add another 500 passes.

According to the city, Social Return on Investment methodology has determined every dollar invested in the project generated $1.92 in social investment, meaning it paid for itself in 3.1 months through avoided enforcement and associated costs.

Agencies involved with PATH track the use of passes and determined the top three uses are for health and medical reasons (41 per cent), to get food (40 per cent), and for shelter and housing (34 per cent).

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