Price hikes reduce transit accessibility
The $6 increase to the monthly community bus pass over the span of two years, according to critics, makes public transportation unaffordable for many Ottawa residents living with a disability.
This pass is meant to ease the transit costs for residents who are registered with the Ontario Disability Support Program or those using Para Transpo. In the City of Ottawa's latest 2015 budget, the price for the pass increased by 2.5 per cent, making it cost $41.75 per month. Two years prior, the pass cost $35.
A 2014 report by the ODSP Action Coalition shows that both in Ottawa and Toronto the total income of a person on ODSP does not meet the average costs of basic needs like shelter and food. In Ottawa, the average ODSP recipient would be $5.94 short per month in covering these two basic needs. The amount increases when factoring in telephone and transportation costs.
Decision makers must consult with groups who may be affected by the changes they make, said ODSP Action Coalition co-chair Kyle Vose.
"You could be cutting off people that desperately need this transportation," he said.
OC Transpo did consider ODSP recipients when it made its decision to increase the fare amount, said Pat Scrimgeour, assistant general manager at the City of Ottawa.
The city decided to raise the cost of the pass to make it the same price as a senior's pass, he said.
Critics say this decision to balance out the price will continue to affect the lives of many ODSP recipients who depend on the transit service. Some ODSP recipients may stop using transit and others may choose to continue using it but will have to give up something else, said Vose.
Critics say that while the $6 increase to the monthly pass may seem insignificant, for an individual with a fixed income, below the poverty line, it can have astronomical effects.
The recent Daily Bread Food Bank's Who's Hungry report showed the percentage of disabled people lining up at food banks has almost doubled since 2005. The number has increased from 17 to 28 per cent.
An ODSP recipient gets $13,176 annually to cover shelter, food, and all their expenses, including transportation. According to the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services, the amount will increase to $13,320 in October 2015, a monthly amount of $1,110. According to Statistics Canada, the low-income cut-off, commonly referred to as the poverty line, is at $19,307. There is thus an income gap of $6,131 for ODSP recipients.
Ottawa disability rights activist Sally Thomas said the community pass holds no value for her.
As a wheelchair user, Thomas sometimes relies on Para Transpo to get around the city. With a community pass, Thomas would have to pay an extra $2 per ride. This extra fee plus the price hikes make the pass unaffordable, she said.
Instead, Thomas purchases the regular priced adult pass for $103.25, which allows her to use Para Transpo without any extra charge.
"The people who use community bus passes are generally on fixed incomes that are small, so an extra few bucks means a little less in their fridge for food--people need to eat," said Thomas.
Michelle Walrond, another disability rights activist living in Ottawa, said she, too, has trouble purchasing the pass. After her car broke down in the spring, she purchased the pass for the first time in order to attend physiotherapy.
"I got the discount for the pass, but when you live below the poverty line, $40 is still a lot of money," she said.
In June, Walrond was able to purchase the pass because she received her pay for an online tutoring service she offers. Because she will not be attending physiotherapy until August, Walrond will not be purchasing the pass for July due to its hefty price.
Decision makers making these choices should have to also live on the fixed income of an ODSP recipient, said Walrond.
"If they can do it, then we can do it too. But they wouldn't be able to. They would lose their minds," she said.
Miriam Katawazi is the summer journalist at the Peace and Environment Resource Centre.