By Kevin Werner
METROLAND WEST MEDIA GROUP
A Hamilton decision to standardize its transit fares could financially harm people with physical disabilities, said the vice-president of the Hamilton chapter of the Canadian Council of the Blind.
Stephen Reavley said the additional expense people with visual disabilities will have to pay to use public transit may force them to reconsider going out, possibly resulting in their becoming shut-ins. Most people with visual problems don’t earn a lot of money, so they may experience cash shortages and have problems paying for rent and food, he explained.
“I don’t know how these people will eat,” said Reavley who, during his presentation to the Dec. 3 public works committee, was overcome with emotion.
Under the city’s fare policy for conventional transit and accessible transit service, approved in October, fares will be same for everyone. Reavley said his organization didn’t hear about the policy change until recently.
It has meant the equalization of HSR and the Disabled and Aged Regional Transportation System (DARTS) of fares for disabled and visually impaired people. It impacts those individuals, for instance, who use personal mobility devices and free fares for Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) cardholders. These fare breaks were uniquely created in Hamilton. But the province’s Accessibility for Ontario with Disabilities Act (AODA) maintains the city can’t provide a fare discount to one group of people without discriminating against another. The fares will take effect January, 2013.
“This is the only rational solution we found to be compliant with the legislation,” said Don Hull, transit service director. “This is a component of the AODA we don’t like. This is the downside to the legislation. We see no other way to apply the policy.”
Dundas councillor Russ Powers, president of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, said Hamilton is simply adhering to provincial legislation.
But Cathy Manson, regional manager for service operations for the CNIB, said the provincial legislation didn’t intent municipalities to take away service from people who need it.
Reavley said about 30 per cent of individuals with visual impairments are employed, but they still receive some sort of social service benefit. If the city charges the regular $87 per month for a transit pass, it will eat up about 10 per cent of their monthly income of about $900.
“Please don’t hurt them,” said Reavley.
The cost of an adult fare is $2.55, while accessible transit service fare costs $2.35.
Committee members agreed to have staff review the city’s policy and report back to the Dec. 12 council meeting.
“Let us do our homework,” said Powers.