Low-income public transit riders got a gift when Transit Commission Chair Stephen Blais announced that the single-ride EquiPass would be available on Jan. 1, six months early. While elected officials have shown leadership to make public transit more affordable for people living in poverty, further improvements are needed.
Fewer bus stops and not enough bus shelters have Vanier residents feeling left out in the cold when it comes to public spending on transportation in Ottawa.
The city and its provincial and federal partners are investing billions in public transportation with the forthcoming light rail transit system. But transit users who rely on buses shouldn't be forgotten, say Trevor Haché, vice-president of the Healthy Transportation Coalition, and resident Suzanne Lépine.
The City of Ottawa's 2018 draft transit budget released Wednesday confirmed OC Transpo will offer low-income riders a $1.75 single fare next year called EquiFare.
Trevor Haché is a transit advocate with the Healthy Transportation Coalition. During last year's debate over fares, he found himself suggesting the city would find money to lower the EquiPass by siphoning money from the subsidy that makes the seniors' discount possible.
"I think it's important to note that we would never suggest that seniors aren't worthy of a discount," said Haché. "The only reason why we even forced into thinking about that is the city's claim that they didn't have the money in their budget to pay for further discounts for low-income people."
Low-income transit riders are a step closer to paying the discount rate of $1.75 for a single ride after the transit commission voted in favour of introducing the new EquiFare.
The commission also passed a motion to credit the $6 cost of buying a Presto card — which is required to take advantage of the lower fare — because advocates have argued that the price was a barrier for low-income riders.
Trevor Haché, a board member with the Healthy Transportation Coalition, said the city is sending the wrong message by allowing transit fares to climb steadily over the last decade while on-street parking rates have remained static.
"It's sending the message that the city wants people to drive downtown and park their cars," Haché said.
Haché said his group has pored over past budgets and found the cost of a monthly adult transit pass has risen more than $32 over the last decade "while on-street parking fees have gone up zero, zip, zilch, nada."
Making sure that the city’s LRT line will truly serve everyone was a major concern Friday as experts, activists and city staff got together for a summit on equity.
Trevor Haché, vice president of the Healthy Transportation Coalition, who organized the summit at City Hall on Friday, said as the LRT system opens up, the city has to pay attention to the development around the new stations.
Haché said Ottawa hasn’t reached the housing affordability problem that cities like Toronto and Vancouver have, but when a home is out of reach it doesn’t really matter by how much.
“Whether you can’t afford a $400,000 place or a $1 million place, both are totally unattainable.”
Ottawa housing advocates and urban planners worry the new light-rail system will inadvertently make neighbourhoods inaccessible to the very people the LRT was meant to benefit.
About 200 people, including community advocates, city planners and elected officials took part Friday in a summit called "Transportation Equity" hosted by EnviroCentre and The Healthy Transportation Coalition, which examined the possible consequences when the needs of some of Ottawa's most vulnerable communities are not considered in planning.
Trevor Haché of Ottawa’s Healthy Transportation Coalition thinks the city needs to work at connecting its low-income neighbourhoods to the rest of the city. He points to one of the city’s latest major cycling projects, the O’Connor Street bike lane that runs from the Glebe to Parliament Hill. “The Glebe, of course, is one of Ottawa’s wealthiest neighbourhoods,” Haché says. “It’s really important that the city work to spread those [bike lanes] out.”