Nfld. & Labrador

Transit rate hikes 'thoughtless and backward,' says anti-poverty advocate

An advocate for people living in poverty says the proposal by the City of St. John's to increase bus fees amounts to a further tax on the most vulnerable citizens.

Dan Meades wants St. John's city council to find extra revenue somewhere else

Dan Meades is provincial co-ordinator with the Transition House Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (THANL). (Submitted photo)

A plan by the St. John's city council to increase fees for transit services has raised the ire of the co-ordinator of the Newfoundland and Labrador Transition House Association.

Dan Meades said the rate hikes are "thoughtless and backward."

It's a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to be poor.-Dan Meades

"If you need money to run city services, feel free to raise that capital in an income-based way but don't raise it off the backs of the poor.

The hikes will affect Metrobus and GoBus fares, as well as recreation programs, parking permits, tickets and inspection services.

Extra 25 cents a ride

Most people who use Metrobus tend to be lower income, said Meades, and an increase from $2.25 to $2.50 per ride will affect those who can least afford it.

"Saying that it's just 25 cents is a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to be poor."

It will cost 25 cents more to ride Metrobus and the GoBus service in 2017. (CBC)

GoBus rates will also be raised by 25 cents a ride, affecting people with disabilities, many of whom live in poverty, according to Meades.

On Thursday, Coun. Jonathan Galgay, chair of the city's committee on finance and administration said the fee increase is necessary to administer transit in the city.

"We have an ageing fleet. We have big demands and adding 25 cents will help alleviate some of the funds the city provides Metrobus in terms of a subsidy."

Meades said low-income earners should be provided a subsidy along the lines of those provided in other Canadian cities, such as Halifax. That city provides passes to qualified residents at half the regular rate. 

"I'm arguing that if they need that money they need to be more thoughtful and progressive in how they raise that money," Meades said. He suggested it come from taxpayers who can afford it.  

Budget balancing act

Galgay said the city is expecting to collect about a million dollars in revenue with the proposed increases in fees and fines, hinting that's a way to keep taxes under control.

Jonathan Galgay says the new revenue raised will help decrease the overall tax rate for St. John's residents. (CBC)

"When we deliver our budget, I'm fairly confident to say that the people of this city will be very happy with the decisions that we've made," said Galgay.

"The city can't do a mil rate decrease on the backs of low-income people," said Meades. 

To be poor means every penny counts.- Dan Meades

"To be poor means every penny counts ... these individuals are already choosing between paying rent and putting diapers on their children, choosing between paying their car insurance or buying food," Meades said.

"This isn't even a thoughtful economic argument. It's shortsighted thinking, it's not very compassionate." 

The details of the proposed fees and the accompanying tax implications will be outlined in the budget on Dec. 12.