Yukon NDP, Liberals continue to spar over free transit for Whitehorse

The NDP continues to push the Yukon’s Liberal government to improve its offer of $1.5 million to eliminate transit fares in Whitehorse. The Liberals say they won’t spend any more on the initiative, while the city is awaiting the results of a study on the impact of free transit. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Community Services minister says Yukon gov’t won’t spend more than $1.5M to eliminate fares

The debate between the Yukon NDP and the governing Liberals over free bus fares in Whitehorse goes round and round.

NDP MLA Lane Tredger is calling on the Yukon government to dip into a $5-million green infrastructure fund to help cover the cost of providing free public transit in Whitehorse.

Tredger said free transit would cut greenhouse gas emissions and reduce the cost of living.

“This feels like a green infrastructure project to me,” they said. “It feels like it qualifies really well, actually.”

But Community Services Minister Richard Mostyn said that pot of infrastructure money is set aside for communities outside of Whitehorse. He said the Liberals are sticking to their previous offer of $1.5 million per year to cover transit fares in the capital.

“Moving money from green infrastructure to this would be really robbing Peter to pay Paul,” Mostyn said.

A file photo of downtown Whitehorse. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

The demand for free transit in Whitehorse is part of the Confidence and Supply Agreement (CASA) between the NDP and the Liberal government. Tredger said the CASA does not spell out a dollar figure for free transit.

The city has temporarily offered free transit during the last two springs, when landslides closed Robert Service Way, in a bid to reduce traffic congestion. But it’s not clear that the city is interested in adopting free transit on a permanent basis.

Mayor Laura Cabott has previously expressed reservations about the idea, suggesting the city might prefer to expand service frequency first. Cabott has also said the cost of eliminating fares is probably closer to $1.7 million and would rise over time.

The city is conducting a study of the merits and drawbacks of free transit. It’s expected to be complete in January.

But Tredger disputed whether a study is even needed.

“We know that it would tackle climate change, it would tackle affordability. That would make things safer for women fleeing violence,” they said. “We don’t need to wait for a study to tell us that it would help people.”

Related stories from around the North: 

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