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Low-income advocates fear seniors may have missed the bus with new affordable transit program

Chair of Cambridge council on aging says the group has advocated for and will continue to ask the region for a free ride day for seniors 65 and older.
The Grand River Transit affordable transit program uses a means-based measure for eligibility, rather than an age-based method.

Local low-income and seniors advocates are saying the Grand River Transit (GRT) Affordable Transit Program (ATP) is leaving out seniors that make more than $18,436.

"It certainly doesn't cover older adults who are living on low income," said Sharon Livingstone, chair of Cambridge council on aging. "The low income for older adults on the low amount of OAS (Old Age Security) and CPP (Canada Pension Plan) is around $25,000 to $28,000 a year." 

The new program that was implemented in April 2020 uses an income-based measure to subsidize transit fares by 48 per cent for those that make the Market Basket Measure (MBM), calculated by Statistic Canada, said Peter Zinck, director transit services, GRT. The measure, according to the federal government website, is based on the cost of a specific basket of goods and services representing a modest, basic standard of living. It includes the costs of food, clothing, shelter, transportation and other items for a reference family. 

"In implementing the ATP, (regional) council decided to move into a means-based discount versus age-based discount," he said. "That was done to recognize to provide greater access to more people living with low income to have lower transit fares. GRT does not determine the MBM, not do we adjudicate the income of the customers."

Zinck said the ATP was developed with research done at the University of Waterloo and in consultation with community groups that work with those living with low income.

"The study that was done recommended we use a 48 per cent discount and we also have broader access to products, which is why we through the ATP enabled stored value purchases," he said, adding "Previous to that, some people living with low income received only a monthly pass discount. We've expanded that to make sure people have greater flexibility to purchase single rides at a lower rate."

The new program offers more coverage because it considers both income and household size, Zinck said, adding the information on the GRT website indicates the family members per household and income levels that make residents eligible for this discount. For instance, all family members in a three-person household making $34,020 or less per year will be eligible for the reduced fares.

However, he acknowledged, that based on the MBM cut off, a senior or someone making more than $18,436 and living alone will not be able to access the discount.

"But someone who lives with less money would have access to that," Zinck said. "There's a greater number of people eligible for discount by means-based assessment versus age. It's a more equitable way of providing discounts."   

Erma Friesen, chair of Awareness of Low Income Voices (ALIVe), that also serves Cambridge residents, said those that make slightly more than the threshold are still considered low income.

"The line that they cut it off needs to be higher," said the New Hamburg resident. "I just don't agree with the total I think it should be at least $20,000 and not $18,000. There will still be some people that will be missed. And they could really use it." 

Seniors in surrounding townships are, however, eligible for the Kiwanis Transit service. This specialized transit service serves residents of the Townships of Wellesley, Wilmot and Woolwich. It is available for those 65 years or older, a resident registered with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, anyone with other physical of mental vulnerabilities, residents with temporary or seasonal disabilities that affect mobility, or a person that is registered with the Grand River Transit Mobility Plus program.

However, Livingstone said, her group has been and will keep advocating for more from the region.

"We've been working to get one day of free transit in the region," she said. "We're one of the few regions that continues to not provide that level of service."

In Ottawa, seniors can ride two days a week for free. Oakville Transit offers one free day of ridership for those aged 65 and older. Mississauga Transit has discounted fares for seniors as does the Toronto Transit Commission.

In the City of Hamilton, reduced fares are available for seniors, who can ride free all day, every day if older than 80.

Burlington Transit is offering adults older than 65 free transit on weekdays, Monday to Friday, between 9 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. The program has been extended till Dec. 31, 2021.

"One of our concerns years ago when we started work around developing an age-friendly community was a request from older adults for one free day of transit," said Livingstone. "Then they can get a lot of errands done and go to the doctor. Riding the transit in the region is pretty pricey for a lot of older adults living on OAS and CPP. 


Mehreen Shahid

About the Author: Mehreen Shahid

Mehreen Shahid covers municipal issues in Cambridge
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