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September launch doubtful as London Transit describes hurdles to high school free bus pass pilot project

A bus stop is seen outside Clarke Road Secondary School in London. (Daryl Newcombe/CTV News London) A bus stop is seen outside Clarke Road Secondary School in London. (Daryl Newcombe/CTV News London)
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It may be a longer road than first expected getting free bus passes into the hands of local high school students.

On Monday, a report was released by administration of London Transit detailing several concerns about launching a free bus pass pilot project for students at Clarke Road Secondary School this September.

“Given the number of program elements that need to be clarified, coupled with the time and resource requirements to put them in place, it may be prudent for the parties to consider a later start date,” the report read.

On April 23, council directed civic administration to develop a draft agreement with the Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB) and London Transit Commission (LTC) on a two year pilot project at the east end high school with Grade 9 students receiving free bus passes this September, and Grade 9 and Grade 10 students next September.

However, the LTC report outlined a number of challenges that must be addressed prior to conducting a pilot project

  • uncertain objectives
  • funding model / fare replacement
  • impact on existing passengers
  • start date
  • student behaviour on buses
  • sharing free bus passes

“The most concerning being the capacity for the system to accommodate the new ridership without negatively impacting other riders who are paying a fare,” the report stated.

London Transit declares a bus to be at 100 per cent capacity when all of its seats are filled by passengers

Therefore, buses at 200 per cent capacity have all of their seats full plus an equal number of passengers standing.

The pilot project could impact Routes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7,10, 13,15,16,17, 20, 24, 35, 38, 90, 91, 92, 94, 95, 102, 104, and 106.

London Transit believes Routes 2, 10, 13, and 17 would likely experience the greatest impacts to current passengers.

“It is important to recognize that there will be no ability to respond to increased crowding/schedule adherence issues on impacted routes for the first year of the pilot,” the report explained.

Service changes are implemented each fall based on the previous year’s service levels and ridership data.

“Additionally, consideration should be given to postponing the launch of this pilot program until such time as improvements on the conventional service have been implemented that will address the current crowding and schedule adherence issues,” warned London Transit administration.

If the pilot project is funded in a similar manner to the program that lets children under 12 ride for free, London would have to provide a grant of $2.12 per trip taken by a high school student.

Meanwhile, doubts are raised that London’s share of Provincial Gas Tax (PGT) revenue would increase as a result of higher ridership and offset some of the additional costs.

Based on the PGT’s funding formula, receiving a larger share would require a combination of population and ridership growth faster than in municipalities currently receiving more than London (Hamilton, Waterloo Region, and York Region).

“London Transit administration will be meeting with civic administration and representatives from the TVDSB in the coming weeks to begin discussions relating to a pilot program as set out in the recommendation approved by Municipal Council and will be raising the issues/concerns identified in this report,” it concluded.

The London Transit Commission will consider the report on May 29. 

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