Whitehorse Daily Star

Bus passes would be given to select riders

Free transit could be coming to Whitehorse sometime next year. Just not for everyone.

By T.S. Giilck on November 29, 2023

Revised - Free transit could be coming to Whitehorse sometime next year. Just not for everyone.

While council members eventually came to a consensus on the issue Monday, the wheels on the bus appeared ready to come off, as it required nearly an hour of discussion, debate and head-scratching for the debate to come to a conclusion.

Most of that involved descending into a procedural labyrinth as to how to make it happen, even though it was obvious early on that most of the council members were – to continue the metaphor – on the bus.

The intellectual entanglements began with a motion from Coun. Mellisa Murray. By the time it ended, the notion of free transit had been narrowed down to focus on Indigenous groups, and in particular, LGBTQ2S+ people.

Murray’s motion morphed a bit through the debate. Eventually, it was decided that the city would ask the Yukon government to proceed with the $1.5 million it had set aside to pay for free transit in the city under last January’s Confidence and Supply Agreement with the NDP.

Under the city’s tentative plan, the government would also be asked to handle the distribution of the free transit passes to approved riders. That was a suggestion made by Coun. Jocelyn Curteanu during the discussion.

“I think what we’re trying to include here were the ones who are in need. This just keeps it open.”

Coun. Ted Laking voted against the motion.

Needless to say, there’s still of work to be done and procedures to be established. The government will have to sign on to the concept, as will the NDP.

The idea of free public transit in the city was first proposed by the NDP, and written into the second CASA. There was no mention at that time as to what form the free transit plan would take.

The idea has bogged down for the last 10 months since that time. Whitehorse officials said they weren’t consulted before the idea was written into the CASA struck earlier this year, and appeared to be lukewarm on the idea.

One of the first things the city mentioned was that the $1.5 million would not cover the entire cost of providing free transit per year, nor did it know how it was to be managed.

City officials have said the cost of a true free transit system would in the area of $5 million.

On Tuesday afternoon, NDP MLA Lane Tredger was not happy with the news of what the city is proposing.

“We’re deeply disappointed with the Yukon government that it had to come to this,” Tredger told the Star.

The party’s idea was that anyone should be able to step on a bus and ride for free, Tredger explained.

“This is better than nothing. But we wanted barrier-free transit for all.”

The Liberals have staunchly refused to cough up more money for the project, Tredger said, and appear to have no interest in altering that stance.

The $1.5-million figure was written into the CASA, Community Services Minister Richard Mostyn has said repeatedly, and the government will not be offering more.

In a letter to the editor published by the Star recently, Mostyn wrote, “As agreed upon and subsequently directed by our caucuses, the Government of Yukon has earmarked $1.5 million annually over three years to the Confidence and Supply Agreement item 3a, replacing fare-generated revenue to make public transit free in Whitehorse.

“You (the city) propose reprofiling $5 million from green infrastructure funding towards this request.

“As you are aware, this $5-million funding for green infrastructure projects has been allocated towards projects benefiting communities beyond Whitehorse,” the minister wrote.

“As a government, we are working very hard on many fronts to ensure that we are supporting Yukoners and making life more affordable.

“That includes making responsible financial decisions. Unfortunately, this means that our government is not in a position to provide municipalities with unlimited funds.

“We support the City of Whitehorse’s request to have the Government of Yukon purchase transit passes from the city up to the agreed-upon amount of $1.5 million each year for three years, and distribute those passes to citizens.”

Technically, that could cause the NDP to revoke the CASA, but Tredger said that wouldn’t happen.

“We’re still committed to this idea,” the MLA told the Star.

Later Tuesday afternoon, Tredger released a statement saying “handing out bus tickets won’t make transit free.

“Council is trying to salvage what they can after the Liberals refused to fully fund their commitment,” the MLA said.

“The Liberals killed free transit in October, and as usual, they’ll leave it for cash-strapped non-profits to do the heavy lifting.

“They found $20 million this year to pay for an ore dock in Alaska, and they gave $1 million to landlords, so it’s really disappointing to see them walk away from a perfectly good opportunity to lead on free transit,” Tredger added.

The government, on the other hand, sounds pleased with the development.

This morning, in an emailed statement from cabinet communications, the government wrote, “We were pleased to hear the debate that took place Monday night with regards to providing bus passes to vulnerable individuals.

“We have previously stated publicly that we are supportive of the Government of Yukon purchasing up to $1.5 million in transit passes, and this position has not changed.

“We look forward to receiving a formalized letter from Mayor Cabott with more details and to scheduling the next Transit Working Group meeting soon for a positive conversation on this development,” the statement added.

“The ultimate decision on achieving the commitment laid out in the Confidence and Supply Agreement lies with the Transit Working Group.”

Comments (17)

Up 1 Down 0

Sparky on Dec 5, 2023 at 7:43 pm

SHANE (et all)

Maybe you missed out on Civics 8 but one of the roles of Government is to deliver services. They do this with tax dollars. Right now there are buses winding through city streets with riders on them. We (assuming you pay taxes) are paying for those buses to do their routes and from a cost standpoint it differs very little whether there is one rider or 75 riders.

Why not have the busses full? More people moving about the city doing things, spending money etc. Bonus added: fewer drivers downtown clogging streets and parking stalls. Less vehicle emissions.

Up 80 Down 3

Jim on Dec 2, 2023 at 11:44 am

What’s the government or city going to do if we all just identify as LGBT2S? It’s one way to show our displeasure for this type of discrimination.

Up 124 Down 15

SHANE on Dec 1, 2023 at 7:38 am

If you take the bus, please pay for it yourself.
taxpayers don't need to pay to get you around.
This sound like a voting platform no to LIBS no to NDP and NO to Cabbot.
Call an election!!

Up 138 Down 9

JR on Dec 1, 2023 at 7:10 am

I can't believe that this is even a discussion. This is racism and discrimination through and through. As a tax payer in the COW I am not interested in paying for free transit. I pay enough for insurance and fuel taxes for my own vehicle.

Up 40 Down 21

David on Nov 30, 2023 at 9:08 pm

I own a car, but if transit was free, I'd take the bus sometimes.

Up 180 Down 5

Chrissy Watkins on Nov 30, 2023 at 2:40 pm

Seriously??? Make it free for EVERYBODY or free for NOBODY. Give me a break!

Up 136 Down 6

Bill on Nov 30, 2023 at 1:11 pm

Yes by all means - open the door to free, free, free...

Does anyone believe this is free ? Of course not ! In the end it will be paid for by (as John noted) the taxpayer.

Everything has to be for free. Why ? Well because the NDP say so. This is another example of greed over common sense. Can't afford a bus ticket - walk ! The ONLY folks that NEED assistance are truly those that NEED, not every dog and his brother.

Up 0 Down 0

Groucho d'North on Nov 30, 2023 at 9:43 am

With all the global focus on ending discrimination, this story tells of elected officials debating on who or which category of citizen will benefit from a poorly considered policy proposal.
A means test for free transit should not be based on one's gender or racial identification, but rather their economic situation and if they need transit to get to their jobs rather than a free pass for sightseeing.

Up 147 Down 4

john brooks on Nov 30, 2023 at 9:20 am

This needs to be examined again. Nothing for retired folks, people with disabilities.
Putting one foot in front of the other from Crestview and like communities is not an option.

Up 172 Down 2

Victoria Ruttan on Nov 30, 2023 at 8:27 am

I consider myself to be an open minded, fairly well informed person but why on earth would the motion from Coun. Mellisa Murray focus on LGBTQ2S+ people as in need of free public transit. What would qualify any person who identifies as such unable to afford transit? How about seniors and low income people who can’t afford to buy Kraft Dinner let alone the cost to ride the bus to buy it!

Up 1 Down 0

Matthew on Nov 30, 2023 at 5:28 am

Man oh man, this Council is by far the worst, yet again special treatment for some but not others. When will this madness end?

Up 25 Down 2

Jim on Nov 29, 2023 at 9:17 pm

You'd think before someone agrees to giving away OUR money for free transit, there perhaps would have been a 2 minute phone call to Whitehorse transit. You know, asking one simple question.... How much are fare based revenues bringing in? And giving free transit to a select group of people. Not based on income, which would be totally appropriate, is wrong and every rational person knows that it's wrong

Up 166 Down 4

Klondike realist on Nov 29, 2023 at 9:13 pm

Why only select special interest groups? Shouldn't this be available
to every Whitehorse resident regardless of sexual identity or race? I feel for the heterosexual non fn that was hoping for an opportunity for free transit to come their way. SMH

Up 0 Down 0

bonanzajoe on Nov 29, 2023 at 6:41 pm

Free passes for Indigenous groups, and in particular, LGBTQ2S+ people? I don't think thats going to fly. Those of us outside of these groups would want to know how we don't qualify. City council better explain.

Up 0 Down 0

Leanne on Nov 29, 2023 at 4:06 pm

Ummm..... excuse me? Who did you say is and therefore who isn't eligible for free passes? Time for an election and for this town to wake up. What about elderly? What about handicapped? City officials: get a real job please.

Up 0 Down 0

Anie on Nov 29, 2023 at 3:42 pm

I'm sure I've misread this article - does it say that the City will provide free transit to ONLY indigenous and LBGBTQetc communities? C'mon, that wasn't what council decided - or was it? I'm genuinely confused.

Up 140 Down 11

John on Nov 29, 2023 at 2:16 pm

The freest transit option is still our feet - not the taxpayer...

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