Protesters oppose possible 250% price hike to low-income transit pass
150 march on City Hall as debate begins on whether to cut taxes and services
About 150 people marched on Calgary City Hall on Monday in order to show opposition to possible price hikes for the low-income transit pass.
It comes on the day council started a marathon session to debate its budget, and whether to cut services and eliminate jobs in order to reduce or eliminate property tax increases.
Around 66,000 Calgarians rely on the sliding-scale low-income transit pass, which at the lowest level costs $5.30 per month. The city will debate whether to increase that amount by nearly 250 per cent to $18.
"The city has a budget anywhere between $3 [billion] and $4 billion and we're asking them to find $6.5 million to keep the low-income transit pass at the current rates," said Rev. Anna Greenwood-Lee, who speaks for Keep Calgary Strong, which organized the march.
Nicholas Stebanuk relies on AISH for his income and pays $37 each month for his transit pass. He says an increase to approximately $50 a month would price him out of his only means of transportation.
"I take transit everywhere, so if it does go up, I might lose that opportunity to go places," he said.
Coun. Jyoti Gondek did not rule out price increases for two of the three low-income fare levels, including Stebanuk's, but said there should be no changes to the $5.30 option.
"Transit is essential to Calgarians, all Calgarians, especially the ones that are in positions of vulnerability that do not have the income that they need to pay full fare," she said.
"We need to take care of them right now."
Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he's heard the concerns over the pass and says he's trying to find ways to "mitigate the impact of that cut."
Opposed to cuts
Keep Calgary Strong believes cuts should do the least harm to the most vulnerable and is also opposed to transit service reductions, library hour reductions and cuts to affordable housing.
Greenwood-Lee said the province allocated $4.5 million toward the low-income pass and wants to see the city match that amount.
The city is debating three budget scenarios this week, whether to maintain a planned 3.5 per cent tax hike, a 1.5 per cent tax hike or a tax freeze.
Both the 1.5 per cent and zero per cent scenarios call for cuts of various services.
"Our 31,000 members have told us that one of their main concerns in this city is social isolation. And transit, libraries, community social workers — all of those things connect neighbours to neighbours and are a lifeline for so many Calgarians," said Greenwood-Lee.
"And they are not things that we should be looking at cutting."
The city will not make a decision on the passes today as it listens to public submissions on the proposed budget adjustments.
With files from Dave Gilson and Scott Dippel