Calgary’s Low-Income Transit Pass, a priority for us all

By Mike Kroeze

Approximately one year before I became a practicum student at Vibrant Communities Calgary, I opened the Calgary Herald to find an article describing the new sliding scale Low Income Transit Pass introduced by the City of Calgary. I remember feeling excited that the city that I just recently began to call home had introduced such a progressive and innovative program. I believe that the sliding scale is a tangible commitment from our elected officials to all of our citizens. I had no idea that one year later, I would find myself in a position of working with community members to demonstrate to city council the need to continue to fund the Low Income Transit Pass.

Poverty is all too often hidden from our daily view; however, the higher than predicted demand for the sliding scale makes visible the reach of poverty into the lives of many Calgarians. The number of people qualifying for the lowest band of the sliding scale demonstrates the extreme poverty experienced by many of Calgary’s most vulnerable citizens. The sliding scale is making positive impacts on the individuals and families who are able to access affordable transit while helping the city move towards the goals articulated in the Enough for All Strategy (E4A).

Poverty is borne from multiple root causes that interact with and reinforce each other, creating a complex web of barriers that work against people’s efforts to lift themselves out of poverty. Accordingly, programs such as the sliding scale impact the effects of poverty far beyond the ability to simply access public transit. The E4A strategy acknowledges that one of the most common impacts of poverty is social isolation, which has been shown to have detrimental effects on physical, emotional, and mental health. Access to public transit increases the ability of all Calgarians to create and maintain strong networks of personal support and friendship which aligns with the stated goal that all Calgary communities are strong, supportive, and inclusive.

Research cited in the Enough for All report, indicated that in 2009 only 11 per cent of households with the lowest incomes accessed a community service in the previous year.  A significant barrier to accessing the myriad services offered within the city was the cost of transportation. Research tells us that by overcoming barriers such as cost, these programs can have significant positive impacts in the wellbeing of individuals and families. The sliding scale helps to ensure that our fellow citizens can easily access the right supports, services, and resources when they are needed the most.

While the sliding scale Low Income Transit Pass is not a panacea, it is an incredibly important tool to combat poverty in Calgary. The response to the program has been an indicator of the depth of poverty in our community and I commend both the city of Calgary and the provincial government for their commitment to affordable transportation so far. However, what I have learned during my time with VCC is that victories such as the sliding scale are not simply a bookmark in history; rather, they must be maintained over time through constant vigilance and community action.

City council will begin the adjustments for the 2018 budget on November 27th at 9:30am in council chambers. I, along with numerous community workers and advocates, allies, and people who have been positively impacted by the sliding scale will be there to tell our newly elected representatives about the impact of this program. We will convey stories of strengthened social connections, of contributions to our recovering economy, of equality, inclusivity, and dignity, and of a city that embraces these values. I urge you to join us as we work to ensure that the sliding scale remains a priority for us all.

 

Mike Kroeze a Practicum Student at Vibrant Communities Calgary. Please feel free to leave a comment below.

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