St. Catharines is opening its bus doors to veterans and children under 12 to ride free.
The initiative was rolled out quietly last Monday. Some of the details of the program are being ironed out but it is a permanent change to St. Catharines Transit.
Said Dawn Dodge, who sits on the St. Catharines Transit Commission, "We wanted to offer better services for our riders. We wanted to level the playing field because GO Transit offers it. We thought it would be good to offer it as well."
The commission is hoping to re-coup the initiative's $8,000 cost through increased ridership.
"I think it will encourage people that wouldn't otherwise ride the bus," said Dodge.
With an eye to combating climate change, Merritton Coun. Greg Miller shares her hopes.
"When kids get on the bus earlier, they are more likely to become lifelong users. It's healthier, more sustainable, gets cars off the road," said Miller.
Miller has already received positive feedback. He shared one family's experience on social media. The family with two children explained they would be saving about $100 a month.
Free fares for veterans was brought to council by MPP Jennie Stevens, who holds the New Democrats' veterans, legions, and military affairs portfolio.
"I've met too many legion members that are on fixed incomes that use public transit, and this was a way to make things a little easier for them," said Stevens in an email. "I have a son who is an active military member, and so finding ways that we can honour serviceman is not just a job for me, it's personal."
Guelph and Brampton also offer free transit to veterans, but there is an application process. In St. Catharines, veterans only need to show their Veterans Service Card.
"It's long overdue. They fought for our country and gave up a lot of things and this is a way of giving back," said Dodge.
St. Catharines Transit also offers free rides three hours before and after Niagara IceDogs and Niagara River Lions games to ticket holders.
The transit commission is looking at more ways to make riding public transit, easier and more affordable.
"We are looking at fare integration for all transit services. That's one thing that is going to come forward pretty soon," said Miller.