Alberta government mum on low-income transit pass funding cuts in Calgary and Edmonton

Click to play video: 'Alberta cuts funding for low-income bus passes in Calgary, Edmonton'
Alberta cuts funding for low-income bus passes in Calgary, Edmonton
WATCH: The province is cutting funding for low income transit passes in Calgary and Edmonton. As Adam MacVicar reports, advocates worry the move will impact thousands of people in both cities. – Apr 30, 2024

The Alberta government isn’t confirming whether or not it has slashed low-income transit pass funding on Tuesday, despite mayors from Calgary and Edmonton issuing statements addressing the issue.

The province has been funding low-income transit passes in both cities since 2017. Originally, Calgary and Edmonton each received $4.5 million to fund their respective programs.

In 2023, both cities received almost $6 million each to fund low-income transit passes. An additional $1.7 million was announced to start similar programs in other municipalities.

When Global News asked for comment, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Seniors, Community and Social Services did not provide details about funding for low-income transit passes but instead provided a statement about other programs, adding transit is a municipal responsibility in Edmonton and Calgary.

“Alberta’s government is investing $5 million to support transportation programs for low-income Albertans in rural communities where transportation options are limited. Alberta’s government also provides over $3.5 million to low-income Albertans on social benefits to support them getting transportation across the province, including in Edmonton and Calgary,” the statement read.

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“We’re also investing $887 million over three years for Edmonton LRT projects, and $667 million over three years for Calgary LRT projects. These investments will increase access to transit for all residents in our two major cities.

“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.”

Click to play video: 'Sohi sends letter to Smith detailing ways the province can help Edmonton financially'
Sohi sends letter to Smith detailing ways the province can help Edmonton financially

Tina Daynes, a Calgarian who relies on the low-income transit pass, said she takes transit everywhere because she doesn’t have a vehicle. A bus pass costs her $15 to $30 a month, but she is struggling to make ends meet.

“It’s very expensive. I have three jobs, plus I’m on (disability payments), but I cannot afford to live in this city. You raise rent, you raise (energy bills), you raise grocery prices … But you don’t raise the minimum wage,” she said.

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Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi called the reduction “unfortunate” in a statement to Global News on Tuesday. Over 250,000 passes were sold in 2023, an increase of around 20 per cent compared with 2019.

A spokesperson for the City of Edmonton said the program has been “incredibly successful,” and city studies suggest that it reduced stress and removed barriers to transportation for program participants.

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“At a time when Edmontonians are struggling to afford their basic needs and demand for this program has increased 150 per cent since 2016, the decision to defund this program in Edmonton and Calgary shows that the Province’s priorities are in the wrong place. Yesterday they announced $9 million for a feasibility study for rail that we won’t see for decades, but they revoke funding for Albertans who need it today,” Sohi’s statement read.

“The City of Edmonton is already facing financial pressures due to provincial downloading, and this additional reduction in funding is unfortunate.”

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In Calgary, the low-income transit pass program was used nearly 119,000 times from January to March this year.

The city said it also contributed $32 million on top of the province’s $6 million.

Calgary city council voted unanimously in favour of a motion on Tuesday to request the provincial government reduce its property tax requisition by $6.2 million to offset the shortfall caused by the cuts in funding for the low-income transit pass program.

Council is also asking the province to increase the grant it pays instead of property taxes on provincially owned properties in Calgary to cover the funding cuts.

Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek told reporters the province is offloading its responsibilities to municipalities, and the cut to low-income transit pass funding will impact property taxes for Calgarians.

“This happening at this moment is terrible. This happening at any time would be terrible. These are low-income people,” Gondek told reporters on Tuesday.

Gondek said the need for low-income transit passes is increasing in Calgary, and people are desperately seeking help.

“I’m frustrated that once again, your municipal government is the only ones that seem to care about Calgarians right now, especially those experiencing hardship through this affordability crisis,” she said.

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“We’re still carrying on this program … But we need to find out how to make up for this shortfall that the provincial government has put us into yet again.

“We are already funding this to around 83 per cent so we are okay for a little while, but we are not okay throughout the year. This government has the opportunity to reinstate the funding. They have a responsibility to do this for low-income Calgarians.”

Lorne Dach, Opposition transportation critic, said the United Conservative government’s decision to defund the transit subsidy programs in Calgary and Edmon was “extremely cruel.”

“We are in an affordability crisis, and many low-income Albertans rely on these programs to get to school, to work, to grocery stores, to job interviews or to medical appointments,” Dach said in an emailed statement Tuesday.

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“This important program was cut by millions as the UCP earmarked $9 million for their new 15-year rail study, announced just yesterday. Danielle Smith doesn’t seem concerned if Albertans can afford to take the bus to get to their jobs or access health care, so long as she can put her name on a rail plan that may or may not materialize by the year 2039.

“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.”

Meaghon Reid, executive director of Vibrant Communities Calgary, said this was an unexpected announcement from the provincial government because Calgary and Edmonton are currently experiencing an affordability crisis.

“It means that lot of your income are going towards basic necessities … If this pass gets compromised because there’s no more investment from the provincial government, it’s going to mean people are going to have to make unfortunate tradeoffs,” Reid said.

Reid told reporters municipalities may have to pay for the low-income transit pass program themselves, and she hopes the municipal and provincial governments can reach an agreement on how important these passes are for many.

“This is an incredibly important pass in the lives of more than 130,00 Calgarians … Around 115,000 Calgarians are one missed paycheque and one financial adjustment away from losing their shelter, this is what a financial adjustment looks like,” she said.

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“If people have to come off the low-income transit pass and can’t access the pass, we will absolutely see impacts to housing, food and basic necessities.”

Reid urged the provincial government to fund poverty reduction programs.

“If we do not invest in poverty reduction programs, things become incredibly expensive,” she said. “$6.2 million is not a lot, the municipality potentially can fund that, but it will come from elsewhere in the budget.”


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