Two kids on a transit bus


If My Kid Can’t Ride Transit Unaccompanied Then They Shouldn’t Be Charged A Fare

Aug 30, 2019

Turns out I am a fare dodger. It came as a complete surprise.

I discovered this a few months back. My eight-year-old and I were on our way back from a dental appointment. It was during school hours and public transit seemed the best option — the bus passes directly in front of his school. Everything was going well. No cavities. Bus arrives on schedule. That’s when it happens.

'You know, that sounds more like a surcharge for parents than a child fare.'

We step onto the bus and I am asked for a fare I do not have or realize I needed.

“You know children over five are supposed to pay a youth fare,” the driver informs me. I am flummoxed. I slip my Presto card into my wallet, filled with other cards which won’t do me much good.

“He didn’t pay to get here,” I wheedle.

“He should have,” she counters.

That’s when inspiration struck: “If my son paid the youth fare would you allow him on the bus unaccompanied?” My son looks horrified.

“Kids under 10 must travel with an adult,” she cautions.

“You know, that sounds more like a surcharge for parents than a child fare,” I point out, but I didn’t press the matter. She didn’t make the rules, after all. In the end, she let us both on with a promise to abandon our fare-dodging ways. Son looked incredibly relieved. I was too.

Relevant Reading: How I’m Teaching My Child To Ride Public Transit Without Me

But later, the incident began to irk me. We’ve all heard the story of Adrian Crook, the single father from downtown Vancouver who ran afoul of child services for training his four oldest children to use transit unaccompanied. It isn’t a routine choice I’d make for my own family, but I respect his decision and sympathize with his plight. And I see my own experience as a much smaller, but related, issue.

If you won’t allow children under 10 years old to use your service unaccompanied, you should not be charging them a fare.

Parents who live in the GTA are probably wondering why I am making such a big deal of this. Don’t kids under 12 always ride for free? Yes, in Toronto, children under 12 have been allowed to use the TTC free of charge since 2015 and have enjoyed the same privilege on GO Transit since March of this year. Kudos to Toronto, but it is the outlier. Kids in most major Canadian cities do not enjoy a free ride or, rather, parents pay a surcharge.

Kudos to Toronto, but it is the outlier. Kids in most major Canadian cities do not enjoy a free ride or, rather, parents pay a surcharge.

Montreal comes close with free rides on legal holidays, weekends and during the summer months for youth 12 and under. Youth enjoy a reduced rate most other times, but only kids younger than six years old ride for free. That latter part — reduced youth fares and free for very young kids — is more-or-less status quo with transit services in Vancouver, Calgary, Ottawa-Gatineau, Winnipeg, Quebec City, Hamilton and Kitchener. Edmonton allows accompanied children under 12 to travel for free, with a negligible discount on tickets if the child travels on their own. None of the transit services stipulate a clear age at which children or youth can travel unaccompanied. 

In fairness, I should point out that my own city, Ottawa, has the most deeply discounted youth fare of those cities where it isn't free. We no longer dodge the youth fare, but I still find it irksome.

How does my eight-year-old feel about this new transit fare bugbear of mine? Well, he thinks eight years old is a little young to be using transit solo, even in a pinch. Even 10 years old might be a little young, although he is not ruling it out. He also thinks Toronto is on the right track with this kids-ride-for-free thing.

He thinks I should write a letter to the mayor of Ottawa. Not a bad idea.

Article Author Rob Thomas
Rob Thomas

Read more from Rob here.

Rob Thomas is a writer, editor and a work-at-home dad. Brood, a book of poems inspired by his experiences of fatherhood, was launched at the Ottawa International Writers Festival in 2014. His journalism has appeared in places such as Ottawa Magazine, the United Church Observer, Canadian Running and on CBC radio and television. He is also a founding member of an Ottawa social club for dads called The Ugly Mothers.

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