British Columbia

Pilot project will give free or discounted transit to up to 100 low income earners in Vancouver

The City of Vancouver is launching a $50,000 pilot project to study the impacts of reduced or free transit fares for low-income residents. The B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition, which worked to get the project going, calls it a positive first step toward its larger goal of free transit for low-income people across the province.

Anti-poverty group says it's a positive step, but transit should be free for all in need

A pilot project beginning in 2021 will study the impact of providing free or discounted transit fares to 50-100 low income Vancouverites. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The group behind a new pilot project in Vancouver that will provide free or discounted transit fare for some low-income residents hopes it leads to the more ambitious goal of free transit for everyone in B.C. living in poverty.

The Reduced Fare Transit Pilot was announced by the City of Vancouver on Tuesday after council approved the plan. It relies on $50,000 from the Union of B.C. Municipalities.

In a written statement, the city said the pilot will include 50-100 people experiencing poverty, with priority given to Indigenous residents and people of colour. 

"We're extremely excited because we know that the pilot has an opportunity to really reveal the impacts of mobility poverty on low-income communities and paint a portrait of some of the policy solutions we know will make a difference," said Viveca Ellis, interim community organizer with the B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition.

Ellis said she has worked to secure the funding for the pilot and get it started, but she hopes it leads to a far broader approach in the province to ensure people in poverty have access to public transit.

'This is one step'

She said 421,000 people live in poverty in the province, and she's advocating for transit systems across B.C. to provide free transportation.

"One hundred per cent, the B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition has been advocating for, ultimately, free fares," said Ellis, adding that to start, they want children and teens to have free transit, and then low-income adults on a sliding scale.

She also wants a stop to issuing fare evasion fines.

But Ellis said her group has heard pushback from TransLink and municipalities when it comes to making the case that people living in poverty struggle to access transportation and that has a negative impact on their lives. This project will be a chance to study the issue and show the results.

"This is one step, a positive step forward toward capturing truly free and affordable transit for thousands of low-income community members that are still shut out of our system right now," said Ellis. "The city's commitment to gathering more data helps fuel the advocacy that we're trying to accomplish."

Ellis said she hopes the City of Vancouver — or other municipalities — will match the funding from UBCM, and she's still advocating to increase the size of the pilot project.

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Rafferty Baker is a video journalist with CBC News, based in Vancouver. You can find his stories on CBC Radio, television, and online at


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