A City of Edmonton-sponsored program that currently offers free bus passes to youths has expanded to include adults who are homeless or vulnerable of becoming homeless.

The Providing Accessible Transit Here (PATH) passes will go to social agencies like Native Counselling Services of Alberta. The agencies can then decide how to distribute the passes.

Elias Thompson, 18, received a $250 fine for riding the LRT without a ticket more than a year ago. He didn't pay because he couldn't afford it.

"I was like, How am I going to pay for this?" he said. "Now I'm going to have to work more and find a way to pay it for myself."

He eventually paid it off by doing community service work with a sweat lodge. Now he has a free pass from Native Counselling Services to get around while he looks for a job in retail.

Elias Thompson

Elias Thompson, 18, uses one of the free bus passes provided through the PATH program to find work in retail. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson says it's a worthwhile investment to prevent people from getting tickets who can't afford to pay them.

"We're putting them offside with the justice system, even landing people in the remand centre periodically, at precisely the time when a bus pass would have been the thing that got them the services they need to turn things around," Iveson said.

Catherine Broomfield, executive director of iHuman Youth Society, says they often counsel youth who don't have the money to pay for an LRT ticket to make their court-mandated appointments. 

She says the PATH program has allowed them to keep their appointments without risking a fine.

"This gives young people empowerment," Broomfield said. "They're making healthy choices and following through on decisions and consequences that they need to."

Since January, 1,400 people have received one of the passes through the program.

The project is funded until the end of next year.

@travismcewancbc

‚ÄčTravis.mcewan@cbc.ca