Province contributes $6.2M to Edmonton low income transit pass

Low income families will get a 60 per cent break on the cost of transit in Edmonton starting in 2017, thanks to a new pilot project launched by the provincial government.

The three-year pilot will cover half the cost of Edmonton's low income transit pass program

In 2017, it will be 60 per cent cheaper for people below the low-income cut-off to use Edmonton transit.

Low income families will get a 60 per cent break on the cost of transit in Edmonton starting in 2017, thanks to a new pilot project launched by the provincial government.

Human Services Minister Irfan Sabir announced the government will put $6.2 million toward Edmonton's low income transit pass over the next three years. The city will contribute the same amount toward the total cost of the program.

The discount will reduce the monthly cost of transit to $35.

"A low income transit pass in Edmonton will make it easier for families to get around the city to access jobs, education, healthcare, community resources and government services," Sabir said.

Sabir is expected to make a similar announcement in Calgary on Friday.

Pass integral to ending poverty

In Edmonton, the low income transit pass is an important initiative in the city's plan to end poverty.

In the past, the city would ticket people for riding the LRT without paying even if they couldn't afford to pay the fare, said Mayor Don Iveson.

"Trying to charge people who don't have money to use a service and then unintentionally criminalizing them has been the wrong approach," Iveson said.

Families that are below the low-income cut-off will be eligible for the pass. More details about the application and distribution process will be available in June, and the passes will be available the following year.

The provincial funding is expected to last until mid-2018. Sabir said the government will evaluate the success of the project once the pilot is over.

Mayor Don Iveson and human services minister Irfan Sabir announced a combined $12.4 million to launch a low income transit pass in Edmonton in 2017. (CBC)

Renee Vaugeois, the executive director of the John Humphrey Society of Peace and Human Rights, said reducing the cost of transit will vastly improve the quality of life for low income families.

"I know of young women, because of the cost of bus tickets, walking from Millwoods to downtown in the middle of winter, with babies, to access supports," Vaugeois said.

Subsidy will go a long way

Iveson said the decision to put the money toward a discount for low income families, rather than lowering the cost of transit for all riders, was based on the percentage of income this group has available to spend on transportation.

"We know that $90 to $100 for a bus pass for people who are working poor is a huge, huge percentage of their income.

"I think where government can provide a targeted subsidy that gives relief and enables that low-income person to access education, or work more, be more productive … all of those things have much greater social returns than just a blanket to everybody," he said.

Sabir said the government plans to work with Edmonton on other elements of its initiative to end poverty.

Meanwhile Edmonton transit is looking at ways to redesign the system to better connect people with jobs and services, particularly for people who do shift work. He said those changes will likely come into effect in 2018.