City Council has voted to revamp London’s transit subsidy program in hopes of improving access to the bus for low income residents.
Staff now face the potentially difficult task of finding the money needed to cover some new bus pass discounts, which could total as much as $2 million.
During Monday’s meeting, Mayor Matt Brown praised the new subsidy program as a positive step forward.
“This is more movement, and extremely significant movement on a file that on my six years on Council has not moved one bit, and I understand that it’s been over a decade that that has been the case,” said Brown.
Subsidizes that allow blind and visually impaired residents access to $10 yearly bus passes will continue, but seniors will no longer receive a 25 per cent discount.
That money, in addition to the cash city staff now need to find, will be used to give all low-income Londoners access to discounted monthly passes of $52 rather than the normal $81.
“I just cannot judge one disability from another, I just can’t say I’m going to prefer one group over another and give them something different, I know it’s a tough decision, I know it’s a tough step, but if we’re going to go to a system that is income based, then I think it’s what we have to do,” said Councillor Phil Squire.
Councillor Mo Salih praised the program for improving access to the bus for residents based on financial need, rather than age.
“We talk about this war on poverty and the fight on poverty and I think this is definitely a step in the right direction, to see that there seems to be a unanimous sentiment of wanting to help those people and recognizing that allowing people to be more mobile around our city is a strong step in the right direction,” said Salih.
Councillor Maureen Cassidy agreed.
“We’re making a real difference, and I think everybody needs to be aware of that, so it’s not perfect but it’s a start, and it’s a great start,” said Cassidy.
By challenging staff to find the needed funds, the estimated 6,000 low income residents who might want them can access them rather than only 1,200. The initial pitch to have low-income Londoners access the limited number of discounted monthly passes on a first-come first-serve basis drew heavy criticism from poverty advocates.
The pilot project was approved by a 12 to 1 vote. Councillor Stephen Turner was the lone opposed vote, arguing it was inappropriate to make this kind of spending decision outside of the normal budget process.
“I’m getting very concerned about the way we’re budgeting, folks,” said Turner. “Concerned about how we do these ad-hoc things, and how we say, ‘meh, let’s find the money some place, there it is, it’s under the table.’ We went through a fairly significant and very painful and arduous process to do a four-year budget for this city, and now we’re saying we can find $1.4 million under the cushions some place.”
The two year pilot project will begin in 2018.