Councillors Debate Subsidizing Bus Passes for Disabled

By Chris Montanini

The 2011 municipal budget will be tight, but not as tight as the budgets of low-income Londoners on disability, says Jim Hewett.

Chair of Community Living London’s Advocacy Committee, Hewett has again submitted a request for city council to consider subsidizing public transportation for Londoners on the Ontario ­Disability Support Program.

“A lot of the people we support … ­volunteer at numerous organizations but they pay the full rate for busing,” Hewett said. “If they need busing seven days
a week, they opt for a bus pass at $81 (per month). That represents about 10 per cent of their income for the month.”

The maximum amount someone can receive from ODSP is $12,600 per year, well under London’s poverty line, which sits at around $15,500.

Hewett is requesting the city set up a fund of $725,000 to subsidize transportation for Londoners on ODSP, similar to the $500,000 per year put aside to
help seniors and the visually impaired.

But there is more than money at the heart of the discussion, which has made its way into agenda packages at council meetings in good economic times and bad over the past eight years.

The budget “is one issue, but that’s not the main issue for me,” said Coun. Nancy Branscombe, who told council last week she wouldn’t­ support a new fund on the backs of local taxpayers. “The main issue is ODSP is solely funded by the province, and if there are subsidies for bus passes, that’s where it should come from.”

Council has shot down a motion to ask the London Transit Commission to consider a discounted pass and a motion to ask city staff to submit a service growth item to be considered in 2011 budget talks.

They did carry a motion to have staff investigate the issue in surrounding cities though, to see, among other things, how specified funds are capped.

Council heard an uncapped fund could balloon into millions of dollars depending on uptake levels, and has committed in the past to the idea that a cap to
control costs is a contravention of the Municipal Act since, despite its use in other municipalities, members of the exempted class would inevitably be
denied when the fund ran dry.

“That’s where the problem (is),” Branscombe said.

Hewett has heard the debate before and disagrees.

No government funding subsidizes busing for seniors or the visually impaired, he said. “That is a municipal decision, so why is it all of a sudden a provincial or federal issue just because people receive ODSP?”

In a brief from the community services department, councillors were told the Provincial-Municipal Fiscal and Service Delivery Review says “broad based social assistance benefit programs are generally best supported by province-wide revenues.”

Why money is put aside to subsidize transportation for seniors and the visually impaired, “is a good question,” Branscombe said. “I’m not sure it’s had
a satisfactory answer, I guess it’s just the way we’ve always done it. I think that’s part of what we ultimately may need to evaluate, but the source of
funding is the pivotal question.”

Even if council wanted to set up a new fund, Branscombe added, “there’s still the matter of trying to find three-quarters of a million dollars.”

Coun. Matt Brown, a member of the Community and Neighbourhoods Committee, said they’ve asked city staff’s report on the issue in surrounding municipalities to be available at the May 17 CNC meeting.

“We do see other cities are providing a subsidy,” he said, adding that discounts range from $10 to $58 off the pass. “What we haven’t asked is how these other cities do it.”

Article ID# 2979690

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