‘I am appalled’: Alberta to cut funding for low income transit passes

The mayors of Alberta's two biggest cities say the province has pulled $12 million in funding meant to help low-income residents access public transit. Silvia Naranjo reports.

Alberta’s UCP government appears to be moving ahead with cutting funding for low incomes transit passes in Calgary and Edmonton.

Calgary’s mayor confirmed the move in a statement on Tuesday, saying she is “appalled” and calling it an “insult to the lowest income Calgarians.”

“This is an absolute cruelty to low income Calgarians who absolutely need this funding to be able to get through their lives,” she says.

Gondek says those who need a pass can still get one for now, but the city would need to scramble to find funding moving forward.

“We’re okay for a little while, but we’re not going to be okay for the entire year,” she says. “This government has an opportunity to step up and do the right thing.”

READ MORE: Gondek says Alberta should stop picking fights with feds

About 139,000 low income passes were distributed in the city from January to March of this year, according to numbers from the city, a 27 per cent increase from the same time last year.

Prices for low income passes are determined by an individuals income, and range from $5.80 a month to around $57.00 a month. A regular monthly transit pass for an adult in Calgary is $115.

The NDP opposition has come out to call the move “extremely cruel.”

“Municipalities are already grappling with insufficient funding from the province, and now the UCP is downloading further responsibility onto them by callously ripping funding away from services that assist low-income Albertans to access transit,” transportation critic Lorne Dach said.

In response, a spokesperson for the Minister of Seniors, Community and Social Services tells CityNews the province is investing $5 million to support transportation programs for low-income Albertans in rural communities.

“As transit is a municipal responsibility in the two big cities, we are investing more in core services delivered by the province like homelessness and housing,” reads the statement.

The change comes seven months after Premier Danielle Smith’s United Conservative government announced it had expanded support for the low-income transit pass, with programs in 10 other cities, to combat the rising cost of living.

Meaghon Reid is with Vibrant Communities Calgary and says she hopes the city can find a way to offer low income transit passes, even if it means funding it themselves.

“This could have a very significant impact on people,” she says. “It’s going to mean people are going to have to make some very difficult tradeoffs, potentially not be able to get to work, not pay their rent, not meet their electricity bills.”

The province has funded passes since 2017, and it’s a $6.2 million contribution that goes towards low income transit passes in Calgary. The city already paid over 80 per cent of the program cost.

Calgary to request province decreases city tax to offset cuts

City council voted late Tuesday to request that the province decrease the amount of city tax dollars they take every year by $6.2 million to cover the province’s funding share of the low income transit pass program.

Coun. Jasmine Mian says she doesn’t think it is right that the provincial government is pulling out of this program

“They are continually saying to us, ‘you need to stay in your lane,'” she says. “I think that these are reasonable ways, if they don’t want to provide the grants, that we can make up the money.”

Council unanimously approved the motion.

With files from The Canadian Press

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