A voluntary pay program for transit riders with disabilities will likely continue until at least June.

City council will vote Wednesday to extend the program for another three months. The intent of the motion, said Coun. Sam Merulla, is to buy the city more time to figure out an alternative.

"We're extending it until we can come up with a plan B," Merulla told CBC Hamilton Tuesday. "The plan B is to ensure anyone with a disability that has a financial hardship will continue to ride fare-free."

Currently, Hamilton Street Railway (HSR) has a voluntary pay program, where blind people as well as those with four-point canes, walkers, scooters and wheelchairs can ride free of charge. Those who choose to pay can do so, but they are not obligated to pay the standard $2.55 fare.

Under the proposed fare parity policy, everyone would pay the standard fare. The city is changing the policy to comply with new provincial legislation.

The new policy was supposed to take effect on Jan. 1. Council pushed that back to April 1 to examine alternatives. Merulla said the city needs more time.

Evaluating options

One of the options the city is examining is some sort of "means testing" that would assess the financial need of would-be participants, Merulla said. There are needs-assessments for other city services, such as recreation programs.

"To transfer that process to public transit would be seamless, in my opinion."

Activist Dave Cherkewski from Hamilton Organizing Poverty Elimination wants council to go farther than that.

There is abuse of the current system, he said. Four-point canes can be purchased without a prescription, and can be used by those who aren't disabled but lack the means for pay for transit.

The city needs to create a low-cost transit pass for everyone in need, from people who are disabled to residents on social assistance, he said.

Anything else would be "a partial solution to a bigger problem."

Council meets at 5 p.m. at city hall.