Ottawa approves low-income transit pass in 2017 budget

A transit pass for low-income Ottawa residents was confirmed at City Hall during the 2017 draft budget meeting on Nov. 9. The pass had been announced by Mayor Jim Watson last month with few details on the cost or when it would be introduced.

The EquiPass will cost $57 per month, down from the regular monthly adult pass which costs $113.75, according to Watson. The estimated savings for eligible users is marked at $672 per year, and is the largest one-time increase in financial support for public transit in the history of Ottawa, according to a city news release.

Prior to the tabling of the budget, a rally was held outside City Hall to promote the interests and demands of low income residents. The event was organized by the Healthy Transportation Coalition (HTC) in partnership with the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), City for All Women Initiative, and various other community groups.

Trevor Haché, president of the HTC, hosted the rally after a year of advocating for cheaper alternatives for low income individuals.

Haché said the HTC started a petition to bring a low-income transit pass to the city, and had collected more than 3,000 signatures, including support from 50 organizations across the city who have been connecting with city councillors.

“I think all of these things have helped convince decision makers at City Hall, including Jim Watson, that this is something the City of Ottawa really needs to do,” Haché said.

The pass will be available for those who live at or below the poverty line, which is $20,000 or less for individuals, according to Statistics Canada.

Rachel Wallbridge, a third-year Carleton University social work student and member of the City for All Women Initiative, was present at the rally to help support a lower transit fare for women in the community. She also said there is a possibility EquiPass could help students who do not qualify for a U-Pass.

“I can see the benefits of using it, especially when students are out of university and aren’t able to get jobs. They would end up using the pass themselves,” Wallbridge said.

Watson said at a news conference last month that the proposed pass would apply to 8,800 residents.

City councillor Tobi Nussbaum said he advocated for a lower-income transit pass.

“In the spring, I thought that this was something that needed to be discussed in the context of the larger city budget,” Nussbaum said.

He said the goal was not to force other residents to pay to subsidize for a low-income transit pass. Instead, the city is allocating money from the budget towards the EquiPass.

“I did think it was right that within a $3 billion city budget that we could find the [money] necessary to finance a low-income transit pass,” he said.

Tina Ford, a single mother of two who will be eligible for the proposed lower fare, was also at the rally. Ford is a member of ACORN and lives on employment insurance, and said she has to walk across the city in order to run errands or get to school.

Ford said EquiPass would benefit her, since she would have extra money to buy healthier food, more security when paying rent, and not risk her health when walking in winter.

Also at the rally was Catherine McKenney, city councillor for Somerset ward.

McKenney said there is a priority for the EquiPass within her own ward, noting many people cannot afford the high cost of transit, and that a cost of over $100 is not doable for many residents.

“Next to shelter, transportation is often a family’s second most expensive [cost], and we have to make sure that people can be part of society” McKenney said.

The EquiPass will be available in April 2017.