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Presentation to Regional Council on Transit Access for All

Transit accessibility and affordability are essential for a healthy community, and the Region's commitment to healthier transit options for our present and future population is very important. However, while we realize that sensible transit costs a lot of money, GRT's business-plan of recovering ever more of its operating costs from the fare box is unaffordable for the poorest who simply can't afford any increases, much less the 10% increases that we have seen in the past. People living on social assistance receive extremely low payments that increase only 1% annually, and the minimum wage continues to be far short of a living wage. Moreover, transit access is a human right; we have spoken to Council previously about the necessity of sustainable transport as a way to eradicate poverty, and the urgent need to address the mobility needs of people living in poverty, who are the primary users of public transport. We believe that Waterloo Region can be a leader in Transit Fare Equity. Aparticularly important issue of social justice – equal access to urban mobility –must be addressed, rather than maintaining the inequalities built into the public transit system. Research has shown that there are intimate links between the mobility of the poor and their range of housing and employment options. Small changes in public transit prices and service levels can make big differences to the mobility of those living in poverty. The relative immobility of the urban poor, especially women, is a central concern in their lives and severely limits their employment options; they must trade-off the time and cost required to access livelihood opportunities against security and quality of housing. Waterloo Region, like all communities, has an obligation to lower fares for people on low incomes. Other cities are finally recognizing this, and we can be a leader and offer a model of Transit Access for All for other communities to follow. If indeed we are a community of barn-raisers, this should be a challenge we are well-equipped to accept.We propose that Council instruct Grand River Transit to make available free bus-passes for all individuals receiving Ontario Works. People living on Ontario Works are required to go to meetings and search for work, and supportive and low cost housing is often located outside of the city centre; however, their access to transit, because of the cost prohibits job searching. While TAPP exists - Ontario Works Transit Affordability Pass Program, it is available to Ontario Works Adult participants who attend St. Louis School on a full time basis only. This eliminates the majority of OW recipients. We also propose subsidized passes costing $21 for all individuals receiving ODSP, as well as those whose income falls below the low-income cutoff. The cost of the TRIPP (Transit for Reduced Income Program) is currently twice as high as it should be (at $42), and these subsidized bus-passes are in very short supply, with a lengthy waitlist. Those on ODSP, and others with low incomes, require subsidized passes to ensure their inclusion in the community.

We also call for an immediate freeze on all fare increases for the next five years.

In addition, the current GRT strategy is to cut routes and schedules and focus on cost recovery, when we need to focus on extending transit to the poor and increasing ridership. Specifically, the cancellation of Route 18 — which took in part of Guelph Street, where the House of Friendship Emergency food hamper program is located, has caused undue hardship to our Region’s most vulnerable residents. The nearest bus to the warehouse is Route 6, which stops a few hundred metres away at Guelph and Lancaster streets. That's a very long walk with a heavy food hamper. Thousands of low-income KW residents including the unemployed, the working poor, new immigrants, refugees and those relying on Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program, rely on the emergency food hamper to feed themselves and their families; the majority do not own cars and rely solely on bus service to get to and from the Guelph Street location. In April of last year, over 300 KW residents signed a petition asking for the cancellation of Route 18 to be reconsidered. Unfortunately GRT plans went ahead, and as expected, during this winter, the cancellation of the Route 18 bus has meant that some residents have been unable to use the food hamper, because the snow has prevented them from pushing a cart with the food hamper up to the bus stop. This is even more of a concern for people with mobility issues. GRT should make a small route-change in the bus line to the Food-Bank pick-up so that people can access it much more easily and safely.

AAP also urges Council to use development charges to stimulate the creation of affordable housing units, especially along the LRT route. That's where people who are dependent on transit need to live. Improved transit won't help lower-income people the way it should, if they can't afford to live near it. Both affordable housing and affordable public transit are essential to eliminate poverty. Once built, those living in poverty must also have access to the LRT, in a way that is affordable for them.

Finally, political pressure should be kept up on the province by Waterloo Region Council, for a better deal on day-to-day transit costs. Transit Fare prices need to be fair prices … I am confident that Waterloo Region can be a leader in Transit Fare Equity and poverty elimination. In conclusion, I would like to officially request Council to prepare a budget proposal item investigating the costs of making transit fare free for those on OW, half of the current fare for those on low-incomes, ($21 instead of $42), to freeze fare increases for the next five years, and to make a small change to GRT Route #6, so that those living in poverty can easily and safely access the Emergency Food hamper. With these improvements to our transit system, fairness is achieved by ensuring access for everyone, and in particular, it addresses the immediate and vital step needed toward ending poverty. It also moves us toward producing a more egalitarian society and toward building an environmentally friendly community.

Let’s make GRT – Grand River Transit … rather than what it is becoming known as: GRT – Growingly Regressive Transit.