September 2013

Affordable transit is essential to the health of people living on a low income. It enables access to employment, education, health services, food, and recreation and other city or community services such as places to go to get relief from dangerously hot or cold weather. It also plays a key role in promoting inclusive communities.  In many areas across the province, the lack of affordable transit for people living on a low income is a significant problem – as identified through previous provincial government consultations on poverty reduction and social assistance:

“In community after community, lack of access to public transportation was a significant issue we heard about from people living in poverty; people simply could not afford to take the bus. That means that they are unable to apply for jobs or access resources that are there for them and their children. ”
-Breaking the Cycle: Ontario’s Poverty Reduction Strategy, 2008

” We frequently heard about difficulties in accessing transportation. In urban areas, the concern is the affordability of public transit. In many small towns and rural communities, the concern is the lack of any kind of public transit. This is especially difficult for people with disabilities. ”
– Brighter Prospects: Transforming Social Assistance in Ontario, 2012

Many communities are recognizing that cost is a barrier to transit use and are implementing a range of affordability strategies. For example, British Columbia and Saskatchewan make transit passes available at discounted prices for low income residents. In Ontario, transportation subsidies may be available to social assistance recipients for employment-related activities and medical therapy or treatment; however 

transportation costs for other important activities are not covered – such as for grocery shopping and support for children who need to be dropped off and picked up at day care or school, and/or older children who need to travel to school by transit.

Several cities and regions in Ontario are also implementing discount transit pass programs for low income residents and enabling community agencies to purchase tickets at a reduced rate from transit authorities to provide free of charge to community members accessing their services.

Being able to travel without restrictions to work, school, recreation and other places is important to creating healthy and inclusive communities. Making transit affordable and accessible for people living on a low income in communities where there is a public transit system is the best way to ensure that day-to-day activities are possible. Where there is no public transit system, local solutions must be identified and funded. 

When you attend a consultation meeting or send in your ideas, tell the government you would like to see the following included in Ontario’s next poverty reduction strategy:

1. Provide adequate and dependable funding to public transit across urban areas throughout the province, funding that allows transit to be affordable to all people who need it.

2. Implement a provincially funded discount transit pass program for people living on a low income in communities with a public transit system.

3. Convene an advisory group to examine best practices for increasing access to transportation for people living on a low income in communities without a public transit system.

4. Ensure that social assistance covers the regional cost of transportation in addition to other basic needs.

5. Ensure that the determination of minimum wage levels addresses the cost of transportation.

6. Ensure that any new funding for transit expansion target populations/places that are currently underserved and that a portion of these funds be used to improve transit affordability for people living on a low income.

7. Advocate for both provincial and national transit strategies.

Social Planning Toronto 

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