Province suspends transit pass subsidy for low-income Calgary residents

“I have been informed that the Government of Alberta is cutting funding for the Low Income Transportation Pass in the midst of an affordability crisis, and I am dismayed,” read a statement from Mayor Jyoti Gondek.

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The Alberta government is withdrawing its annual funding from the low-income transportation pass program that tens of thousands of Calgarians access each month, according to Mayor Jyoti Gondek.

The province has provided an annual grant of $4.5 million to support Calgary’s subsidized transit pass program since 2017.

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Last year, the province asked the city to extend its Low Income Senior Transportation Pass to seniors living in multigenerational households, and provided an additional $1.7 million to do so.

But on Tuesday, the mayors of Calgary and Edmonton issued statements indicating provincial funding would be suspended.

“I have been informed that the Government of Alberta is cutting funding for the Low Income Transportation Pass in the midst of an affordability crisis, and I am dismayed,” Gondek’s statement read.

“The Government of Alberta is failing to provide support to struggling Calgarians by ending the long-standing provincial funding contribution to Calgary’s low-income transit pass program, as well as funding for a year for an additional senior pass.

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Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi issued a similar statement Tuesday.

“At a time when Edmontonians are struggling to meet their basic needs and demand for this program has increased 150 per cent since 2016, the decision to defund this program in Edmonton and Calgary shows that the province’s priorities They are in the wrong place,” he wrote. .

Public transportation ‘is a municipal responsibility’: province

In its own statement Tuesday night, the Alberta government’s seniors, community and social services ministry said the province is investing $5 million to support transportation programs for low-income Albertans in communities. rural areas where transportation options are currently limited.

The Alberta government is also providing more than $3.5 million to low-income Albertans in social benefits to help them get transportation across the province, including Edmonton and Calgary, the release added.

“As transit is a municipal responsibility in the two big cities, we are investing more in basic services provided by the province, such as homelessness and housing,” said Alexandru Cioban, the ministry’s press secretary. “We are also providing support to the two cities through the Family and Community Support Services program which provides Calgary FCSS with $31 million to support low-income Albertans and Edmonton FCSS with $23.3 million.”

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Cioban added that the province is also contributing more than $1.5 billion to LRT capital projects in Alberta’s two largest cities, including $887 million over three years for Edmonton and $667 million for Calgary, which, he added, once completed , will increase access to public transportation for all residents. .

“The 2024 budget also provides $41 million for the Homeward Trust in Edmonton and $41 million for the Calgary Homeless Foundation to provide important services in larger cities,” he said, adding that the Alberta government is also spending more than $108.1 million in the budget for homeless shelters across the province “to protect the most vulnerable.”

‘Much needed and much used program’: 119,000 Calgarians have accessed the pass this year

Still, during an afternoon meeting with reporters Tuesday, Gondek called the government’s decision to suspend transportation funding for low-income people “unconscionable” and the timing “terrible.”

“That means this government is once again getting rid of its responsibility and the dollars allocated for its responsibility to us,” he said. “They hope we find the money somewhere to fix this.

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“This game is getting old, it’s getting obsolete and it’s time for them to take responsibility.”

The city says that from January to March of this year, about 119,000 Calgarians accessed the low-income transit pass.

Gondek noted that demand for low-income transit passes increased 35 percent in the first three months of this year compared to 2023.

Jyoti Gondek
Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek. Brent Calver/Postmedia/Archive

According to information provided by the city, Calgary’s low-income transit pass operates on a sliding scale based on three income “bands.” Lower-earning riders pay just $5.80 a month for a transit pass, while those in Band B pay $40.25 a month and those in Band C pay $57.50 a month.

A regular monthly transit pass in Calgary costs $115 a month.

The city spends about $31.8 million subsidizing transit passes for low-income people, or about 83 percent of the overall program, according to Gondek.

“We are going to have to fight as a local government once again to find the money for something that is not even our responsibility,” he said.

Accessing public transport is “very essential”: advocate

Meaghon Reid, executive director of Vibrant Communities Calgary, said the program is essential for low-income Calgarians to access work and medical appointments.

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“We would say the ability to access public transportation is very essential to maintaining employment for many low-income Calgarians,” he said. “Compromising this type of pass during the biggest affordability crisis our city has ever seen seems shortsighted.

“While investments in things like housing are great and important, if people ultimately can’t go to work to pay their affordable rent because they can’t afford a transit pass, we are perpetuating many of the same problems.”

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