Free (voluntary) bus fare for Hamiltonians in need will stay for six month grace period in 2024
Published December 14, 2023 at 4:13 pm
Free (voluntary) bus fare on Hamilton Street Rail transit for the blind, eligible Ontario Works recipients and those with mobility issues is back on after Council approved a six-month grace period for people already using the Affordable Transit program and CNIB cardholders.
Council approved a pilot program July 14 that would end the Affordable Transit Pass Program for Ontario Works recipients and the Temporary Transit Fare Special Program for the blind and for those who use a personal mobility device such as a wheelchair, scooter or walker.
Those programs, which allow eligible residents to purchase an adult monthly pass on HSR for half price and provide a voluntary pay option, was scheduled to end January 1, to be replaced for a new pilot program called Fare Assist.
But Ward 7 Councillor Esther Pauls successfully got a motion to re-consider back on the agenda Wednesday, saying the new pilot program would be funded “on the backs of some of Hamilton’s most vulnerable.”
Paul, who said she had several constituents come to her office saying they cannot afford to pay the new, albeit discounted fares, said the quest to save tax dollars shouldn’t come at the expense of those in need.
“One shouldn’t trump the other.”
The councillor also pointed out that the projected revenue loss from extending free transit for Hamiltonians in need is “foregone revenue we never had.”
“Let’s get this right.”
Pauls’ motion was actually defeated Wednesday but an amended motion from Ward 3 Councillor Nrinder Nann won the favour of Council, with her motion – which Pauls did not deem ‘friendly’ – locking the grace period for voluntary fare users at six months, with a staff report on the program expected in September.
The Fare Assist pilot program, which will run from January 1, 2024 to June 30, 2026, will bump fares for low-income Hamilton residents from half-off to just a 30 per cent reduction on single ride PRESTO fares. The program is expected to cost taxpayers $3.83 million (including two temporary full-time employees) and be funded through available provincial funding and/or the Provincial Gas Tax Reserve.
Extending the free transit fares for eligible recipients for six months will cost about $450,000.
Council also agreed to expand the contract of Clark Marketing Communications to track and report on the costs and usage of the new program at a one-time cost of $24,000.
Families with one child making under $27,352 per year will be eligible under the Fare Assist program. The eligibility then goes up to $38,682 for families with two kids, and up from there on a sliding scale depending on the number of children.
Children under 12 ride for free.
Eligible families will have to apply for Fare Assist and re-apply each year.
A statement from the City said it expects 88,000 Hamiltonians will benefit from the new program. Council was also told that transit operators will try to use “education rather than enforcement” when the grace period ends June 30.
Adult fares on programmed PRESTO cards for HSR is $1.89 per trip.
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