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Poor, disabled hit hardest by transit fare hikes

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Anti-poverty activists came to City Hall on Saturday to protest the public transit fare hikes due to take effect in January.

On November 17, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) approved a fare hike that will see a single adult fare increase by 25 cents a ride, beginning January 3.

“For poor and working people in this city, transit costs are already too high,” said the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) in a statement. “This fare hike comes at a time of recession job loss, growing poverty, and dangerously low social assistance rates.”

OCAP organizer Gaetan Heroux argued that public transit is no longer affordable for the poor. “That’s very, very disturbing,” he said. “All levels of government claim they’re broke and don’t have money for anything.”

Heroux recalled a story many years ago when his mother and brother had to use public transit but they only had one fare. When they told the driver that they didn’t have enough money for two fares, he wouldn’t allow both of them to board the bus.

“I remember my mum telling me that story and how she felt that she didn’t have enough money for both of them,” he said.

For the last 21 years, Heroux’s worked in the downtown east end working with the homeless and poor. At Street Health, Heroux said 50 to 60 people ask for transit fare every day and the majority are turned away.

“That happens at every agency that works with homeless people,” he said. “Some are forced to walk three or four miles to get where they need to go; others have to get up extra early to walk to work.”

Heroux said he’s heard horrific stories about transit officers manhandling people because they’re trying to get on a streetcar (without paying a fare) to see a welfare worker.

He added that a lot of agencies have been forced to cut back on handing out TTC tickets because their funding has been reduced.

So what are the options for the poor and homeless, especially the ones that have been housed in the suburbs under the Streets to Homes program?

After they pay their rent, they have no money for food or transportation beyond the first week of the month. How do they get back into the downtown core because there are no services in the suburbs?

“They have to beg the bus driver to let them on,” said Heroux. “And if they don’t, they have to walk.”

Or they jump the turnstiles in subway stations or get on the streetcars and buses through the back doors. And face the consequences if they’re caught.

“Where are the politicians on this issue?” asked Heroux. “How dare you allow this to happen you cowards?”

In response, OCAP made “special” transfers that they handed out to everyone at the rally. After the speeches, they moved out of the Square and boarded the westbound streetcar at Bay and Queen, where they handed out transfers and flyers to passengers and the driver.

At McCaul Street, they left and boarded the eastbound streetcar back to Yonge and Queen, unopposed by police or TTC drivers.

Between now and January 3, OCAP is planning to hand out thousands of transfers, hoping that people will try to use them when the fare hikes take affect next month. They’d like TTC drivers to honour the transfers in solidarity with the poor and the homeless.

“We think that’s a much better solution than hiring more TTC cops to enforce the new fares,” said Heroux. “If someone has a family with five kids and they need to get to school, their doctor or to the hospital, they need access to the TTC.”

Griffin Epstein is an organizer with the disability rights group DAMN 2025 that believes that “accessibility is more than just adding ramps and lifts.” Addressing the crowd in the south end of Nathan Philips Square, Epstein said, “Real accessibility means keeping the public transportation system public.”

For many, she said, public transit is the only way to get around the city, yet 60 per cent of the subways and 40 per cent of the bus routes are physically inaccessible.

“Most disabled people in this city are living in poverty,” added Epstein. “That means that the majority of our community are going to be directly and devastatingly affected by this fare hike.”

Epstein told supporters that there are thousands of people on Ontario Disability (ODSP) and one in five people are on Ontario Works (OW) with a disability because they can’t access ODSP or are “waiting forever” for their application to be approved.

A $100 dollar volunteer benefit is available for those on social assistance, but it’s too low to afford the current monthly pass price of $109. When the increase takes affect on January 3, the price jumps to $121 a month.

“That $21 dollar difference between funds allocated for transit and the actual fares means, for some people, the difference between eating and not,” she said.

“That is not a choice anybody should be asked to make.” 

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