By Doug Hallett
Young people consulted for a new youth strategy have told city officials they want cheaper bus passes for high school students.
“One of the things that came up over and over again was that the buses were too expensive for high school students,” says Adam Rutherford, the city’s youth services coordinator.
“That’s the message that we got continually,” said Rutherford, whose report on a new youth strategy for the city for 2013 to 2018 goes to council’s community and social services committee on Tuesday.
In response, city officials overseeing the new youth strategy are proposing a universal bus pass plan for all high school students as a longer-term goal of the youth strategy.
However, achieving this goal would take “a really concerted effort” by Guelph Transit, city hall and the local school boards to create a workable plan, Rutherford said in an interview Monday.
The idea is to offer a discounted bus pass lasting through the school year that high school students could sign up for at the start of the school year, he said.However, many students who live within walking distance of their high school would likely want to “opt out” of such a bus pass plan, creating a barrier to making the plan truly universal, Rutherford added.
The youth strategy report says young people think Guelph Transit’s $64-a-month youth bus pass is too expensive, especially compared with what University of Guelph students pay. Local high school students “are looking for a means of transportation that is cost- and time-efficient to get to and from school, meetings, youth groups and events,” the report says.
U of G students currently pay $93.46 for a bus pass that’s good for a four-month semester. However, all U of G students must buy the U-pass as part of their student fees, so students who use city buses regularly are subsidized by those who seldom or never use their passes.
During city council’s budget-setting in late 2009, Guelph Transit officials suggested doing away with the U-pass and replacing it with a single student pass for all types of students in Guelph – including high school and college students, as well as U of G students. However, council ended up backing away from this idea. Instead, Guelph Transit negotiated a new deal with university students in early 2010 that included a sizable boost in the price of the U-pass, which cost $61.63 per semester at that time.
Guelph Transit general manager Mike Anders said Monday that if a special bus pass is to be created for high school students, “we’d need to do a lot of analysis to see what the market might be and what model might or might not work for high school students.”
The transportation situation at high schools “has a different dynamic” from the situation at the U of G, partly because of school busing of some secondary students, Anders said in an interview.
The new youth strategy is “a summary of some of the wants and needs that the youth are putting forward” in Guelph, Anders said. City council will now consider the report, and city staff will start looking at what resources should be dedicated to assessing certain recommendations in the report, he said.
The report says the city consulted with more than 600 local young people in creating the new youth strategy, which is meant to replace a 2003 youth strategy that’s seen as outdated.
The report lists 10 goals for year one, another 10 for years two to four, and 10 more goals for year five and beyond.
One of the goals listed for year five and beyond, along with the universal bus pass for high school students, is “youth representation on Guelph city council.”
There wouldn’t be any city budget impact in 2013 from implementing the report’s first-year goals, the report says. However, a request for a full-time addition to the city’s youth services team could go to council as part of the city’s 2014 budget, it says.
Guelph’s population of about 121,700 includes about 9,300 people who are between the ages of 13 and 18, it says, and a total of about 24,400 between the ages of 10 and 24. The city’s population is expected to grow to 175,000 by 2031, and the city “needs to be prepared to meet the needs and demands of youth moving forward,” the report says.
Existing services and programming are generally seen by the local youths who were consulted as moving in the right direction, it says.
“Most youth report feeling reasonably comfortable in their community and believe that efforts are being made to improve the quality of life and services for all young people,” it says.