KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Come September Halifax will likely offer half-price adult bus passes to 500 Halifax residents who live on low incomes.
Yesterday Halifax Council unanimously passed first reading of a bylaw that supports a six-months pilot project. If successful, the pilot could be expanded to include many more people who struggle to make ends meet.
But the initiative may well leave many of the very poor out on the sidewalk, even when fully implemented. Many of the very people who suffer most from isolation and can’t get to their grocery store, medical appointment or food bank will still miss the bus.
The problem is that Nova Scotians who receive social assistance need their every penny for food, rent and other necessities.
My rent is $1350 a month. I only get $620 from social assistance for rent. I can’t take my rent and buy food and I cannot not pay my power to get food, it is just always rent or food, or power or food.
—Nova Scotia mother, quoted in FoodArc’s ‘Can Nova Scotians afford to eat healthy?’
It doesn’t matter if the cost of a monthly transit pass is the full $78 or a reduced $39, it will still be out of reach. It’s like a car dealer offering a ten percent discount on a brand new Porsche to all minimum wage earners.
Consider these numbers.
2012 numbers referenced in a FoodArc report suggest that a lone pregnant woman on income assistance would face a monthly $515 deficit after covering basic expenses. A single man in similar circumstances would be looking at a $691 deficit at the end of each month.
With deficits like that, guess where a bus pass fits in terms of priorities.
The pilot project is a good thing of course. Councillors deserve a lot of credit for supporting it. It will offer real benefits to many people who desperately need a bit of help..
But it would be far more helpful if transit were free for all Halifax residents who live in deep poverty.
And it would be best if the Department of Community Services were to recognize that transportation is a basic need of all income assistance recipients, no different from food and shelter.
That would benefit everybody, whether living in Halifax or in rural Nova Scotia.