Manitoba

Low-income bus pass gets go-ahead from Winnipeg city council

Winnipeg's city council approved a plan Thursday that will see transit passes for low–income earners drop gradually over the next three years, costing those who qualify half the regular fee by 2022.

Gradual decreases will see cost for passes cut in half by 2022

The city's new low-income bus pass will be available to people in households with an income level below the Statistics Canada low-income cut-off or who are enrolled in Manitoba's EIA program, and to refugees or newcomers to Canada who have been in the country less than one year. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

Winnipeg's city council approved a plan Thursday that will see the cost of transit passes for low–income earners drop gradually over the next three years, bringing the price for those who qualify to half the regular rate by 2022.

Councillors voted 15 to 1 in favour of the program, with North Kildonan representative Jeff Browaty being the single nay.

Anti-poverty advocate Al Wiebe was one of several people who spoke to council in favour of the plan. Wiebe said he has had to make a choice in the past between buying food or paying for transportation to get to a job.

"I have had to turn down jobs because I could not afford transportation costs to get to the job and back.… If I did, we wouldn't be eating," Wiebe told councillors.

Currently, a full-fare monthly bus pass for an adult costs $100.10.

Al Wiebe says he has had to turn down jobs because he couldn't afford the associated transportation costs. (CBC/Donna Carreiro)

Several people told city council that even a 50 per cent reduction in a bus pass wasn't enough for those on the lowest incomes.

The first phase of the reduction will start in May 2020, and will mean a 30 per cent discount on a full-fare monthly adult pass. The discount will increase by 10 per cent each year after that for the next two years.

Based on current fees, the low–income monthly pass would be priced at $70.07 in year one, $60.06 in year two and $50.05 per month when the program is fully implemented.

EIA recipients, newcomers will be eligible

Eligibility will be limited to adults aged 18-64, as seniors already receive a 50 per cent discount and youth riders currently get a 30 per cent reduction for a pass.

To qualify for the pass an applicant must be in a household with an income level below the Statistics Canada low-income cut-off, enrolled in Manitoba's EIA program, or be a refugee or newcomer to Canada who has been in the country less than one year.

Browaty, who voted against the plan, called it "well-intentioned," but believes it isn't the best use of scarce funds. He also expressed concerns it signals the city is taking on the responsibilities of other levels of government.

North Kildonan Coun. Jeff Browaty says city funding is stretched too thin to take on social programs such as low-income bus passes. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

"Most social programs like this, for high–need individuals and low-income folks, is the responsibility of the province of Manitoba," Browaty said at council.

The move comes with a significant cost to the city's coffers.

The loss in fares for Winnipeg Transit is projected to rise to more than $7.3 million by 2024, based on the assumption that 78,000 low-income passes will be sold.

The city hopes to recoup some of those losses by selling more passes at the discounted rate.

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