The City of Ottawa has made good on its promise to help low-income families by including a new type of monthly transit pass in the 2017 draft budget this week. After months of consultations, the city tabled the draft on Nov. 9. It included the new Equipass, a bus pass for people who meet Statistics Canada’s definition of low income, after tax. The pass will cost $57, which is 50 per cent less than the standard pass, budgeted to go up to $113.75 next year.
When it’s introduced in early April 2017, it will affect more than 8,000 households in Ottawa that qualify as low-income.
“Hopefully this will put some significant dollars back in the pockets of people who are struggling and help them pay their rent,” said Stephen Blais, transit commissioner.
The cost of the new pass is higher than poverty advocates like Linda Lalonde, chair of the Ottawa Poverty Reduction Network, had hoped for. She said she’d hoped it would be the same price as a senior pass, which is currently $42.75.
Earlier this year, the city asked the province of Ontario to help fund the pass, but they haven’t received a firm answer yet. While Lalonde said she doesn’t think the province will contribute to the pass because there might be pressure for it to start funding low-income passes all over Ontario, there is precedent for this kind of arrangement.
Earlier this year, Alberta began funding a low-income pass for Calgary without an obligation to extend the funding to all communities.
If the funding does come through, Blais said the transit commission hopes to bring the cost of the Equipass down. Lalonde would like to see a lowered price, but also an extension to people who don’t qualify as low-income according to Statistics Canada, but are still struggling to make ends meet.
Low income cut-offs
|Size of Family Unit||Minimum necessary income (before tax)|
|More than 7 persons, for each additional person, add||$6,555|
Source: Statistics Canada, 2016
For people already struggling to afford public transportation, it will be some time before they see the pass. One of the downsides of the new proposal is that it won’t come into effect on Jan. 1, when regular fares will go up from $112.25 to $113.75. The city will need time to put into place all the systems to run the program.
“Hopefully this will put some significant dollars back in the pockets of people who are struggling and help them pay their rent.”— Stephen Blais, transit commissioner
In the coming weeks, councillors and committees will hold budget review sessions with the public. The transit commission meeting will take place at 9:30 a.m. on Dec. 5 at City Hall.
Blais said he hopes the public will like what they’ve put forward with the low-income pass and the planned increase in service after the purchase of 17 new buses. He also hopes the public will appreciate that while fares have gone up, at 1.25 per cent, it’s a smaller increase than the past couple of years.
Lalonde said that while she likes the city’s proposal, she’ll still be pushing for more: “It’s one thing to say, ‘Yes, this is something that’s been done that’s very good,’ but it’s not the only issue for the transit fund.”
She’d like to see a low-income single fare rate and a children’s pass. She’d also like to see the regular student pass brought down lower than $80 and made available to students who don’t fit in the 13 to 19-year-old age bracket, and aren’t going to Carleton, the U of O, Algonquin or Saint Paul University.
Students of these schools participate in the U-Pass program that gives them a discounted pass during the school year. When they aren’t registered in the summer, if they are 20 years old or older, they pay a regular adult rate. For students who meet low-income requirements, they will be eligible for the Equi-pass.
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