04/08/2013 09:55 EDT | Updated 06/08/2013 05:12 EDT

No More Free Transit For Police, Fire, Rescue

Flickr: jmv

TransLink is scrapping a program that provides free transit for police, fire and rescue personnel on B.C.'s south coast.

The change, which comes into effect on July 1, means an end to years of free bus and Skytrain journeys.

Chief operating officer Doug Kelsey said the changes are being made as TransLink re-negotiates tariff agreements allowing 40 user groups to ride for free.

"We've done a review with the department of fisheries, fire and police. Many of them have been able to flash their badges and ride for free for years," he said.

"Part of being a cost-effective organization is reviewing that."

Kelsey said TransLink is reviewing its programs as it prepares for the launch of the Compass card – a pre-paid electronic fare card.

The Compass card will work across the regional transit system, including Coast Mountain buses, the SeaBus and the WestCoast Express.

The move to the Compass system and installation of the related fare gates is expected to cost more than $171 million.

BC Transit employees have already begun paying to use the transit system. But attempts last year to cut the TaxiSaver program backfired.

TaxiSaver provides a 50 per cent subsidy towards the cost of taxi rides for registered users of the HandyDart service, designed for physically or cognitively disabled passengers.

Members of the Canadian National Institute of the Blind (CNIB) and war amputees still receive free rides, but TransLink says those agreements are also up for negotiation.

"Whatever the catalysts are -- in this case, Compass is coming for sure -- and so we are reviewing the tariff right now and we're looking at all elements of the tariff," said Kelsey.

Burnaby Mayor Derrick Corrigan, a former Translink chair, said the Compass program could be more expensive than previously thought.

"I think the system is sweating a little, as they realize there is going to be additional costs... They are trying to show that they are going to be tough on ensuring all fares are paid," he said.

Translink would not say how much money would be saved as a result of the changes, but added that further negotiations with other groups would take place over the next few months.

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