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Burlington Considering Offering Free Transit for Students

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During last week’s Committee of the Whole (COW) meeting, I brought forward a Mayor’s Office report asking for the go-ahead to continue considering free transit fares for Burlington students — I also delegated at a Halton District School Board meeting where the trustees passed a resolution to look at approving a motion at their next meeting this month in support of my report.

At our COW meeting on Sept. 9, we carried the following motion:

Direct the Mayor and Director of Transit to develop a draft report including a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) regarding free transit for Burlington students, outlining the program, costs, revenue impacts, eligibility, and commitments in more detail, in partnership with Halton Region and the four school boards that serve Halton students: Halton District School Board, Halton Catholic District School Board, and the two French school boards, Conseil scolaire Viamonde and Conseil scolaire catholique MonAvenir, and report back to council for a decision.

The motion will go to the Council meeting on Monday, Sept. 23 at 6:30 p.m. for final approval.


There is interest from me, and local school boards and trustees to explore the option of free transit for high school students in Burlington, to be implemented as early as the 2020 budget (if feasible). This is based on the positive community response of free transit for seniors and low-income residents, implemented in the 2019 budget, and in response to requests to expand free fares to students.

The goals of free fares include: removing some of the barriers to taking transit; getting vehicles off the road; reducing Green House Gas emissions from vehicle trips driving students to and from school; introducing students to transit so they become lifelong riders; and working toward achieving our modal split of 15% non-car travel trips among all users.

The free transit program would be available to all students, 24/7, but the primary goal is reach those not eligible for yellow bus service (for example, those who live within 0 to 3.2 kilometres from their school) and who may be driven to school now. Yellow bus service would continue. Fares would be free on both conventional and Handivan buses (as per AODA rules).

Additional detail on earlier stakeholder and city staff discussions can be found in Appendix B of the report (see below): the minutes of a meeting held at Burlington City Hall on July 17.

Based on that meeting, there is interest from staff and Burlington trustees at the Halton District School Board, Halton Catholic District School Board, and French-language public school board Conseil Scolaire Viamonde to explore free transit for students.

The Boards currently buy student bus passes. The City of Burlington would be looking to the boards to continue to provide a similar contribution to help defray some of the city’s costs of providing free transit to students. The funding formula, and any changes over time, would be negotiated. The Boards receive funding from Halton Region for split passes and would be looking to the Region to continue that contribution. The Region would be included in further discussions, as they were not represented at the initial meeting on July 17.

I brought a proposed motion to the Halton District School Board (HDSB) Committee of the Whole on Sept. 11, to vote yes in principle to proceeding to the next step of developing a formal Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) outlining the program, costs, eligibility and commitments in more detail (Appendix A of report – see below). I will be seeking similar commitments from the Halton Catholic District School Board and the two French school boards, Conseil scolaire Viamonde and Conseil scolaire catholique MonAvenir.

After receiving direction to proceed, the I and Director of Transit Sue Connor will work with Halton Region and the participating school boards to develop a draft MOU on free student transit, to be brought back to our respective councils/boards for a decision.

To read my full report and appendices, please click the respective links below:


We’re leading the way with this — the more barriers we remove towards public transit the better it gets and aligns with our environmental goals. I’ve met with the HDSB trustees and will work to set up meetings with the trustees of the remaining Halton English and French school boards to make a similar presentation.

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5 thoughts on “Burlington Considering Offering Free Transit for Students”

  1. Bob Van de Vrande

    This is an excellent idea. We have the buses running anyhow so let’s get students on them. If we can get students on transit then this may guide the way for use of transit when they become adults. If we look at models across the world, there is no reason why more students shouldn’t be taking municipal buses to school rather than the very expensive yellow buses. Funding that now goes to school buses could be diverted to enhancing municipal systems.
    Once this is in place for high school students we should look at extending it for elementary students.

    1. Hi Hafez,
      This is John Bkila, the Mayor’s Media and Digital Communications Specialist. Discussions are still in the early stages. The consideration is for free fares for students using Burlington Transit. As updates occur, we will be providing them on here and the Mayor’s social media channels and monthly newsletter. Thank you for commenting on the Mayor’s website.

      1. I understand and would love to sit down and have a discussion about this, I am intrigued. Also, I do take transit to and from GO Transit stations. That’s my main concern

  2. IF someone is making up the funding gap, it may have climate benefits, and IF the system is decent it may entice new riders, but people tend not to appreciate what they get for free, and if something is free, many will say it is okay if it isn’t really “good”. The notion of paying for services, such as electricity, transit, road repair, schools, and hospitals seems to be fast evaporating, and no one seems to have the guts to say that TAXES need to increase to improve the quality of all these things.

    The transit system at present is moderately improved, but is still really just okay, and still not really great during off-peak hours. The buses are not especially clean or in great repair. Making more service free for more people will not change any of this for the better.

    VISION would be to keep fares affordable for everyone, while not decreasing the slice of people who actually cover the cost of service. Improving service and bus cleanliness, and making riders feel like they have an INVESTMENT in their service, would be a MUCH better approach. The psyche of a “free ride” is already too ingrained in the public mindset. If times get tough, of course service will get gutted rather than taking away the FREE RIDE, and we’ll be once again leading the way backwards on transit. I would point out we are still not at the level of frequency (15 minute rush hour service) that we had more than two decades ago. Let’s at least get back to where we started before giving away the farm.

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