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City committee approves free Burlington Transit rides for seniors

Proposal goes to council July 11, will begin Aug. 1 if approved
USED 2023-01-23-gm-burlington-baj-94
A Burlington Transit bus waits for passengers at the Dundas Street stop.

The city's Community Planning, Regulation and Mobility (CPRM) committee is recommending that seniors ride Burlington Transit for free.

At their meeting Tuesday morning (June 27), the CPRM members received a report from Catherine Baldelli, Director of Burlington Transit, providing “information,
analysis and recommendations to provide all day, every day free transit for seniors on Burlington Transit.”

In 2019, Burlington City Council approved the Free Transit for Seniors pilot, which enabled seniors 65 and older to ride Burlington Transit for free Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. The aim of the program was to increase overall ridership by encouraging more seniors to take the bus, and to shift some riders to "off peak" hours.

As part of the 2023 budget, council approved the Free Transit for Youth program that allows riders aged 13 to 19 to ride Burlington Transit for free on evenings and weekends, starting Aug. 1, 2023. In order to access free transit, youth will have to use a PRESTO card. PRESTO is an operating division of Metrolinx and accommodates the fare policies and pricings of 11 regional and municipal transit agencies, including Burlington Transit.

However, due to PRESTO system implementation restrictions, time-of-day pricing can only be assigned to one fare category, CPRM committee members heard. Therefore, to implement free transit for youth on evenings and weekends, Baldelli’s report recommended that the City make transit free for seniors all the time to avoid the dilemma of offering limited time transit for one group over the other.

“With PRESTO, transit agencies currently have the option to set up special pricing, including free transit for youth, seniors and adults associated with one time frame," a Metrolinx representative told BurlingtonToday when asked for comment on the Burlington situation. "The option to have special fare pricing
associated with multiple time frames is not currently possible. We understand there are times when transit agencies may want to offer discounts associated with more than one time frame to customers. In these cases, we work with transit agencies to assess opportunities and explore alternative solutions to meet their

Jim Young, a senior representing transit advocacy group Burlington for Accessible and Safe Transit (BFAST), made a delegation to the committee in support of the
recommendation. Young also re-submitted a report from the 2016 Burlington Seniors Advisory Committee outlining key points on free transit and the benefits of increased transit usage.

“I came today to support the proposal because it works for seniors, it works for youth and it works for transit generally,” said Young. “Things tend to move incrementally in municipal politics, that’s why I was so happy to see transit for seniors, youth and hopefully across the board.”

Mayor Marianne Meed Ward has long sought more accessible transit for youth, seniors and those in between.

“When I sat on the Seniors Advisory Committee (as a ward councillor), free transit for seniors was one of the main focuses of the group,” said Meed Ward. “Today, the report was approved as written. I think council wants to see what’s possible from a financial standpoint and what are the additional benefits
of ridership increase.”

Though the move to free transit for seniors will not be official until city council votes on the proposal, many items agreed to at the standing committee level do go on to receive council’s full support.

The proposal will be presented to council at its July 11 meeting. If approved, the program will start Aug. 1.

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Lawson Hunter

About the Author: Lawson Hunter

Lawson Hunter has been a freelance writer for more than 30 years. His articles on technology, the environment, and business have been published in local and national newspapers, magazines and trade publications
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