Transit Access For All - Presentation to Regional Planning and Works Committee (August 2013)

                   Ideally the AAP seeks free public transit for everybody (no exceptions), paid for out of general tax revenues much like other vital community services such as health and education.  At the same time we support such payment through fair and equitable rather than regressive tax systems.  Toward this final goal the AAP launched a campaign against the July increase in the bus rates which becomes yet another attack on the most vulnerable in our society—people who live below the poverty line, seniors, workers, students, etc.  We collected signatures, organized meetings, allied with the Waterloo Region Labour Council and will be presenting our case at August’s Regional Council meeting.  We are calling for more than a freeze of current or pre-July rates; indeed we demand free transit monthly passes for the vulnerable listed above as an immediate and vital step toward ending poverty, toward producing a more egalitarian society and toward building an environmentally friendly community.  Above all, without a truly public and community transit system such goals cannot be accomplished.  A transit system built upon the notion of private ownership based on the profit motive is doomed to failure.

Please join us in this important struggle

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Address to Regional Planning and Works committee, August 2013:

This presentation can be viewed online under Delegations - Item 1, 51:10:
 http://view.earthchannel.com/PlayerController.aspx?&PGD=waterlooonca&eID=104

 Part 1:

Chairman Galloway , Councillors and staff -

 We in Alliance Against Poverty became concerned when it was announced that GRT bus fares were going up another 10% in July.  This followed another 10% increase the year before.  At the same time social assistance recipients had only received an increase of 1%.  This imbalance can't go on.  People will become stuck in their room or small apt, instead of getting back to participating more fully in society.  One-tenth of residents of W Reg live below the poverty line - more that 50,000 people.  We shouldn't be making their lives more difficult.

 I'd like to look at a couple of structural problems pertaining to transit fares, to see what can be done to help this situation.

 Last week I attended a focus group facilitated by Gethyn Beniston, and since then Gethyn has been helping me with some facts and figures.

 I understand that Grand River Transit's costs are being met at present mainly by fares and by property taxes, with a small contribution from the provincial gas tax.  Fares are now paying for 40% of costs, and you are planning to raise that share even higher, up to 50%. 

 We think something's wrong with this picture and this goal.  The goal should be to REDUCE user fees and to treat transit like medicare.  That should be our vision!

 But at present municipalities don't have that option.  Property taxes are just as regressive a form of revenue as user fees are.  Other sources of revenue for transit need to be developed.  AND political pressure should be kept on the province by all of Ontario's cities, for a better deal on day-to-day transit costs.  As I said in our budget presentation last Nov: Don't be helpless.  We should be putting up a fight, as well as being more creative.

 I've put some numbers Gethyn gave me into a pie chart:
Cash and regular Adult tickets and passes pay for 32% of rides,
University student passes 28% of rides,
College student passes 4%,
High school passes 10%,
Reduced tickets and passes for seniors and children 12%,
Subsidized fares for low income:
TRIP 5% and TAPP 3%.
(That leaves 5 or 6% miscellaneous.)

 If I've understood correctly, TAPP is a free pass for a specific class of OW recipients who are going to daily classes for high school upgrading.  This excludes nearly all people on OW.

 And TRIP is a subsidized pass for those who can prove low income - whether employed or on assistance.  The cost of the TRIP pass is $40/month, and there's a long waiting list to get one.

 Both of these programs need to be improved, if they are to meet the needs of the lowest income people.

 TAPP - the free pass - should be extended immediately to all people on OW.  They only receive $606/month, yet they are expected to be out there actively seeking work.

 The TRIP pass for low income should not cost any more than 3 strips of tickets (ie $35 at present).  At present, people on disability or working part-time have to buy full-price tickets, and ration themselves to 15 rides a month (3 strips of tickets), because the subsidized TRIP pass is still too expensive.  The cost of this pass must be reduced immediately.  And the waiting list to get one must also be reduced, by making more of these passes available.

 I understand that the Region allocates apx $300,000 a year to the TRIP programme, and we do appreciate this.  But the program needs to be expanded.

 I'm sure that by studying this pie chart at greater length, more adjustments can be found.  Such as doing more to equalize the University and College students!  And of course by attracting more full-fare payers through continuing to improve GRT service.

 But right now, money must be found to expand both the TRIP and TAPP programs.

Eleanor Grant
Alliance Against Poverty (AAP)

  Part 2:

The Alliance Against Poverty (AAP) by its very name positions itself against all bus fare increases.   Indeed, we stand firm in the name of poverty elimination, not poverty reduction, but its elimination as the obscene blemish upon our current society which it is.  We have heard ad nauseum talk of both poverty reduction and the need for austerity from the Ontario Liberal government lo these many years.  Both are bold-faced lies.  In fact, those on “minimum wage”, contract workers, folk on assistance (OW) and disability (ODSP) have less spendable income than under the infamous Harris government with its attack on the poor, an attack continued under more sugary rhetoric by the Liberal governments to follow.  Then to add insult to injury a “bankster” economist Donald Drummond has called for an austerity program which assaults poor and vulnerable folk even further while the richest 1% remains under-taxed, whereas the wealth differential continues to expand at an astronomical rate.  In fact of the 17 OECD countries Canada ranks in the top 1/3 of highest income inequality, with Ontario holding the silver medal (second place) for any province or territory, yielding first place to oil-glutted Alberta.  Whereas the richest 1% of Canadians owned a mere 9x the wealth of our average citizen in 1980, just thirty years later (2010) that gap had leaped to 15x.  This same top 1% owns 20% of our national wealth.  By the end of 2011 the 100 highest paid CEOs earned on average $7,695,625.00 whereas in that same year the average worker earned a mere $45,488.00, a gap whereby the wealthiest brought home about 235x that of the average worker.  Indeed two of the nation’s billionaires are locals MM. Lazaridis and Balsillie, although rumour has it that the latter has fallen on hard times and is now merely a multi-millionaire.

            You might wonder what all this has to do with the more down-to-earth issue of bus fares.  Plenty is the opinion of our AAP!  Perhaps the greatest injustice perpetrated on those with lower income is the community marginalization produced by lack of sufficient income, especially when our society does not have a lack of wealth but rather a highly unethical distribution of the same.  MM Lazaridis and Balsillie do not ride the bus, nor do many (if any) of you elected officials, at least on a regular basis.  With very few exceptions those who ride our transit system habitually are those with little income, the elderly, the low-income workers, single moms, and students.  In short any fare increase, however small, is a regressive tax on the most vulnerable, and FOR THAT REASON ALONE THE AAP finds ANY FARE INCREASE a REPREHENSIBLE ASSAULT ON OUR MOST VULNERABLE CITIZENS. 

             To underscore the heinous character of this revenue grab on the poor, I offer the following examples:   Given the rise in transit costs (for example an adult ticket strip from $10.50 to 11.50 (10%), the rise in food prices and rent hikes, this means a hefty increase in costs for necessities.  Hence, every time someone on assistance uses one strip this equals c. .025 % of a single OW Person’s monthly income ($606.00), while a single ODSP recipient buying the same strip spends c. .01%.   Now, all this may sound rather trivial indeed until you compare it with our elected officials, let alone our corporate barons.  Mr. Seiling at an annual salary a tad under $150,000 would pay only .00009%, or even our local MPPs at annual salaries of $116,000.00, even if they chose to buy such strips, would merely eat up a miniscule .0001%.  All this could sound a tad fussy.   After all who couldn’t afford to pay less than 1% of monthly income for 5 adult tickets?  Put bluntly those on minimum wage, contract workers, those on assistance and those receiving disability!  When those on assistance receive a 1% increase in yearly income, while paying a 10% hike in bus fare, that means a 9% decrease in revenue overall.  We have members forced to go to meetings, with government watchdogs, which require buying bus tickets.  These same members are constantly juggling tickets, transfers and meetings that have only marginal effects on those of us with stable and middle class incomes, but for those who live on the edge these continual transit increases are a nightmare.

            As a result we in the AAP and the Waterloo Region Labour Council demand not only a stop to these rate increases but also free transit monthly passes for those living below the poverty line, including minimum wage workers, contract workers and OW/ODSP recipients.  Anything less continues the horrendous tradition of war on the poor.  Syd Ryan, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) put it clearly in his supportive letter to our AAP on this transit issue: “Actions that raise awareness of the short-sighted decisions of your local council will eventually gain the attention of the media and politicians, and when this happens we will need to put forward alternative revenue generating tools to help sustain and even expand our public transit infrastructure.  Congratulations in launching this important campaign, and we look forward to providing our solidarity and assistance.”            

Oscar Cole-Arnal; Alliance Against Poverty (AAP)

Part 3:

Ultimately, it is our contention that people living in poverty should have free access to transportation; there is a precedent for this in Hamilton, where in the 1980s, bus fare was free for those on social assistance and disability support. If that is not possible in the short term, we are calling for more subsidized tickets and passes for those on ODSP and OW. This is an issue of human rights; indeed, mobility rights are human rights. This was recently addressed in January by Enrique Peñalosa, the President of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy in his address to the United Nations, where he described the necessity of sustainable transport as a way to eradicate poverty, and the urgent need to address the mobility needs of the poor, who mostly use public transport.[i]

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

Article 13. (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
Article 23. (1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
Article 25.
(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.[ii]

I mention freedom of movement and residence, choice of employment and adequate medical care and social services, because all of these rights are denied by making transit inaccessible to those living in poverty.

For example, supportive housing is built outside of the city centre, forcing residents to depend on public transit to access needed services. If supportive and low cost housing is intentionally located outside of the city centre, it is incumbent upon us to provide transit access so people can get to the services they need.         

People living on Ontario Works are required to go to meetings and search for work; however, their access to transit, because of the cost prohibits this.

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 transport prices and service levels can make a large difference to the mobility of the poor. The relative immobility of the urban poor, especially poor women, is a central fact in their lives and severely limits their employment options…  the poor must trade-off the time and cost required to access livelihood opportunities against security and quality of housing.[iii]

In terms of medical care, as those in Toronto are already grappling with, we too, are dealing with an aging homeless population, This means that more people who are homeless or living in poverty will have greater need of health care services. With the increase in bus fare, they will also have a harder time accessing said services. Even if you do not agree that access to transportation is a human right, there is no debate about access to health care being a human right. Many people who are homeless or living in conditions of poverty also struggle with issues of mental health, which also requires transit to access much needed support services.  Inability to attend health appointments, leading to further complications, ill health and death of even one person is unacceptable, and the failure to address transit access in light of this potentiality would represent a profound moral lapse.

Moreover, it is disingenuous for bus fare rates to be increased, when $1 million dollars per year that Waterloo Region saves by uploading the cost of ODSP from municipalities was diverted toward the LRT – a transit related project. We made the point, in our presentation on Regional budget in Feb 2011, that there was an obligation to direct that savings into other poverty-related needs. Now, the least that could be done is to help make transit more accessible for the poor. We believe that the improvements to transit must not be made on the backs of our most vulnerable community members.In many cases, GRT would not even be losing any money by making bus fare free for the poor; as many wouldn’t have been able to afford tickets/passes to begin with, and the buses are passing, in many cases, with lots of empty seats! Reverse the Cuts, Raise the Rates!
In 1995 the Tory government cut welfare rates by 21.6 % and froze disability. Since the Liberals came to power in 2003, they have not only failed to reverse the Harris cuts, but have actually perpetuated a further decline in rates. As a result of that initial 21.6% cut coupled with inflation for the last 16 years, welfare rates are approximately 55% below where they should be. If benefit levels were restored to the same level of spending power as we had in 1994, a single person on Ontario Works would receive an immediate $936/month instead of the miserable $606 now being issued. No one can survive on these poverty rates; $606 cannot afford someone a place to live let alone food and basic needs.

The Liberal government has frozen the minimum wage for last three years. Workers trying to survive on minimum wage are already making poverty wages that continue to lose their spending power as a result of inflation. Currently there are approximately 1 in 6 workers or working at or close to minimum wage in Ontario, and the gap between minimum wage and welfare is greater now than it ever has been.

There are other options to create revenue to support the transit system. Parking rates could be increased. There is already a need to find ways to get people out of their cars and use the LRT system when it opens – increasing parking rates is one step. Provincial and federal monies should be demanded to assist with transit costs, rather than trying to fund over a third of it from the fare box. Then there is the taxation system; as theOntario Health Coalition put it, "Ontario already ranks dead-last in funding all public services, from roads and transit to education, justice and health care. Why? Because we have the lowest corporate taxes and taxes for the wealthy of almost anywhere in North America.”[iv]

Nadine Quehl
Alliance Against Poverty (AAP)

 


[i](http://www.itdp.org/news/enrique-penalosa-to-un-mobility-rights-are-human-rights#sthash.LnGRjgAR.dpuf)

[ii] http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/

[iii]http://www.fukuoka.unhabitat.org/docs/occasional_papers/project_a/06/transport-barter-e.htmlhas so far (Gannon and Liu, 1997).

[iv] http://ckdp.ca/2013/05/03/ontario-health-coalition-not-impressed-by-budget/