Walking alone in the dark.
Missing out on school.
Too scared to ask their foster parents for money.
Those were just some what youth in care say they experience when they can’t afford to take the bus to go to school or work, according to three women who have aged out of the system.
The trio were at a TransLink meeting Thursday as part of a campaign asking for free transit for kids and teens, as well as loan forgiveness for those who accumulated fines they got as children.
Ashley Crossan said transit fines have “have ruined my life.”
She aged out of care several years ago with little support and less money.
“Taking transit was very unaffordable, meaning that I had to hop onto the SkyTrain or take the 99 B-Line for free to get to necessary appointments,” she said. “Sometimes I would get stopped by Transit Police and issued a $167 fine.”
Crossan couldn’t pay the fine, nor the overdue fees.
“So it went to the collections. Now because of that, my credit rating is poor, which doesn’t allow me to apply for a credit card to build it back up. It doesn’t allow me to get a cell phone and I can’t get my driver’s licence.”
She asked the board to bring in a sliding scale for youth and low-income people so that they can take transit without incurring fines.
Cheylene Moon told the board about how, as a teen, she would walk for an hour each way to get to school because she was too scared to ask her foster parents for bus fare.
“One time, I made it halfway to my house and it was raining and I was cold and hungry,” said Moon. “I had to find an undercover area to spend the night.”
Speaking after the meeting, 25-year-old Breezy Hartley – a former foster child – said that something needed to change.
“The system depends on having parents that care about you,” said Hartley. “[Being able to take the bus] would give them no unconditional love. Like hey, no matter what, your basic needs are being met because we care about you.
“Before I went to foster care, if I upset my mom… then I wouldn’t get a ticket home.”
TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond said the transit authority was speaking to the provincial government about free transit for youth and that the issue had come up during a fare review.
“However, we are a transit provider, we are not a social services provider,” said Desmond. “Further discounts… would reduce our fare revenue, and our mission is to ensure we are providing as much service as possible.”
TransLink currently gets just over 50 per cent of its revenue from fares.
New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Cote, who sits on the regional mayors’ council on transportation, said he full supports free passes for youth.
“I think we need to find ways to remove some of the cost barriers to using public transit,” said Cote. “By investing in youth transit accessibility, you’re going to create lifelong riders.”