City needs additional $4M for low-income transit passes

The city is going to need up to another $4 million to continue providing low-income Calgarians with cut-rate monthly transit passes next year. The program allows people to buy passes at lower prices, depending on their income.

Provincial cash not covering cost of sliding scale program

The full cost of a monthly transit pass in Calgary is $99, but it's as low as $5.05 on a sliding scale for low-income Calgarians. (Evelyne Asselin/CBC)

The city is going to need up to another $4 million to continue providing low-income Calgarians with cut-rate monthly transit passes next year.

Under its sliding scale program, people are charged less than the regular adult fare of $99 for a monthly pass.  

The provincial government agreed to give the city $4.5 million a year for 2017, 2018 and 2019 for the program.

However, a lot more people have registered for the passes than anticipated.

A city council committee heard Wednesday that 196,436 people signed up for the city's $44 a month low-income transit pass in 2016.

Earlier this year, the sliding scale system was introduced. It requires people to show proof of their income to qualify for a monthly pass at one of three reduced rates — $50.50, $35.35 or $5.05 a month.

The city is now projecting that nearly 307,000 people will qualify for the program next year. That's well above the earlier estimate of 231,000.

City wants more provincial cash

The chair of the community and protective services committee, Gian-Carlo Carra, said the city is negotiating with the province to cover the increased cost of the program.

But if it doesn't commit to additional cash, he said other options will have to be considered in this November's budget debate.

"We could raise the fees from $5 to $10 for the low-income band," said Carra. "We could cap the number of people who get that and do some kind of lottery system."

"We have a wildly successful program. It's perhaps unfortunate that it's so wildly successful."

The committee heard from community advocates that the sliding scale program has made a big difference to the lives of low-income Calgarians.

Group pleased program is working

Bonnie Pacaud with the group Fair Fares said the price reductions help level the playing field for all Calgarians.

"With the implementation of the sliding scale, people in deep poverty who could not in the past afford to purchase a subsidized low-income transit pass are like a kid in a candy store," said Pacaud.

"They can finally get off the free-fare zone (downtown) and find and keep a job, visit family and friends, go to their places of worship, get to much needed medical appointments."

Coun. Richard Pootmans said the program has successfully unlocked the city for many low-income Calgarians.

"We're liberating a huge part of our workforce that can only help our city as it moves forward."

Next week, city council will discuss the committee's decision to examine in November how to deal with the funding shortfall in the program.  

Carra said he hopes they hear from the province about additional funding before then.