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City Committee Approves Changes to Transit Subsidies

December 14, 2016 06:34 am

Following an emotional public input session, the Community and Protective Services Committee has voted to continue providing discounted bus passes for the blind and visually impaired.

Council will have the final say next week on the proposed changes to transit subsidies in London, which includes bringing an end to automatic discounts for seniors.

Managing Director, Neighbourhood, Children and Fire Services Lynne Livingstone explained during Tuesday’s meeting that it was meant to explore a proposal to provide subsidies for low income residents by scrapping both the subsidy for the blind and seniors.

“Over the years, a number of groups have raised concerns about their inability to access the current program, and have requested that their access to the program be brought in so that they could also benefit,” said Livingstone. “Once eligibility had been determined for a program, a bus pass, a subsidized bus pass, would be sold on a first-come, first-serve basis. Once the monthly maximum had been reached, then we would begin a waiting list.”

The monthly maximum is expect to be roughly 1,200 a month.

Around two per cent of the city’s roughly 35,000 low income residents are seniors. There are an estimated 320 people in the London region who are blind or visually impaired.

Under the proposed plan, low income blind people would have faced a first-come, first-serve system and potential wait for a monthly bus pass that is much more expensive than the current rate of $10 a year.

Without the subsidy, Kash Husain would not be able to travel to and from City Hall, where he volunteers as an Accessibility Advocate.

“I believe that the first people that it should serve are those that are in most need, and that is people who are below, far below, that cut-off level that the staff have mention, and maybe even down to the point where those who are on ODSB, the Ontario Disability Support Program, because these individuals are in fact, if I can use an expression, the poorest of the poor,” said Husain.

According to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, around half of working-age Canadians with vision impairment earn less than $20,00 a year.

The Chairperson of London’s Accessibility Advisory Committee, Roger Khouri, spoke out in favour of keeping the subsidy for the blind.

“When you do the math, the proposed $40.50 is approximately 48 times an increase for the visually impaired and blind communities, that is unfortunately unacceptable,” said Khouri. “We do not limit the number of people that can line up and purchase the pass. It is essential that everyone be able to purchase a bus pass so that they are not isolated, possibly hampering their health or psychological well being.”

The Committee voted 4-2 to keep the subsidy for the blind, but eliminate the one for seniors to help provide discounted monthly passes for low-income residents.

Council will vote on the plan next week. If approved, a pilot project would start on January 1st, 2018.
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