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Council to discuss pilot project for high school bus pass program

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A motion going to city council Tuesday could be the first step in approving a pilot project that would approve bus passes for students in grade nine at Clarke Road Secondary school.

Ward 2 Coun. Shawn Lewis is the author of the motion, along with Ward 3 Coun. Peter Cuddy. Lewis said this conversation started before the COVID-19 pandemic with then Coun. Phil Squire.

“Councillor Cuddy, who was a school board trustee at the time, was part of that conversation now that he's been elected. He and I have carried forward. We've had some discussion with the Thames Valley District School Board with both trustees and administration,” he said.

The Thames Valley District School Board of Trustees began examining what a pilot project would look like in 2023.

“What we looked at was Clark Road Secondary School and to do a pilot project so that we can gather data to look at how successful a program could be and if it is successful, then we would hope that the project could expand,” Thames Valley District School Board of Trustee Chair Beth Mai said.

The idea is to give bus passes to grade nine students at Clarke Road Secondary in the fall of 2024, and then expand that to grade nine and 10 in 2025 to gain data as to how effective the project could be if rolled out city wide.

Mai said similar projects done in other cities have shown great success.

“Increased autonomy for students, increasing independence for young people, allowing them to be able to get to extracurricular activities that are before and after school, looking at getting to volunteer opportunities or part time jobs,” she explained.

The passes are similar to Western University and Fanshawe College students who receive one as part of their tuition, however the cost of this initial project would not fall on families.

“In the long run, if ridership increases, then we get more gas tax back from the federal government to fund transit. So we may have to put some money upfront, but if it's successful, we may be able to get sources of funding from other levels of government to continue this," said Lewis.

If the pilot is successful, the city and school board will look to roll it out to the rest of the city in a phased approach. 

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