Saturday, March 19, 2011

Make Transit Affordable to All, Including Those Who Take Specialized Transit

On March 18, 2011 Helen Henderson wrote an article in the Toronto Star about the need for transit to be affordable to those on a low income. (See: Direct Access: Extend Reduced TTC Fares to People With Disabilities, Group Urges). She is supporting the very real need for there to be a subsidy made available to low-income passengers who use the TTC. In the article she holds out as an example, Kingston for its subsidy of transit.

Her facts are accurate for thsoe taking conventional transit, but it is not for those taking specialized. Therefore, I wrote her this letter. I'll share it here to raise awareness beyond our borders as well. That way, people when pushing for affordable transit in their cities, won't overlook the needs of one particular group.

I'm living by the motto, "You can't fix what you don't know is broke."

Here is the letter:

Hi Helen,

I appreciated seeing your article today in the Toronto Star about affordable transit. It is vital that all people can access this valuable service.

As a person who lives in Kingston, I just thought I'd point out one technicality about the reduced fares. The reduced fares apply only to the conventional transit system. It does not apply to the Access Bus. The Access Bus is a non-profit charitable organization, for which the city holds no contract, so the City won't apply the subsidy to them.

Worse, starting in early 2010 wheelchair passengers were told that too many stops on the conventional transit route are unsafe, so we were recommended to go back to using the Access Bus for the majority of our trips. Only 105 out of 849 bus stops are wheelchair accessible city wide.

We can still take conventional transit, but according to instructions on the bus map, wheelchair users are to call transit to ask about the accessibility of a bus stop before boarding the bus. Failure to do so could mean having to get off several stops away from one's desired destination.

To give you a cost comparison, those using conventional transit and qualify for the subsidy pay only $44.00 per month and then get unlimited rides.

Those taking the Access Bus pay $2.25 per trip and there is no discount for those who take the bus regularly. This means some of us are paying an average of $180 per month for the bus.

Considering the department stores have been closed downtown, the grocery store, that once was around the corner has been closed, and there are very few affordable and accessible stores left in my neighbourhood, I am having to take more buses than ever before. Worse, the grocery store moved to a new location so they run a free shuttle bus for the people in this neighbourhood to continue shopping in their store, but the bus is not wheelchair accessible.

I, too, am on ODSP so in order to survive I had to cut off cable, cut down on food, and give up taking part in social and recreational activities. I've also had to limit the amount of volunteer work I do because, unlike Toronto, we don't have the $100 incentive for ODSP recipients to volunteer.

If you ever do another article on transit and its costs, please take note of this and, if possible, include a note about the cost differences for wheelchair users vs the general population in some cities.

Thank you.

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