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Edmonton weighs options for low-income transit passes

WATCH ABOVE: Edmonton is looking at options for low-income transit passes. But in order for that to happen, Mayor Don Iveson says other levels of government need to step up with funding. Lisa Wolansky reports.

EDMONTON — In order for Edmonton to offer a discounted transit pass to low-income families, other levels of government need to step up to the funding plate, according to Mayor Don Iveson.

“I gotta tell ya, I’m getting tired of going to property taxpayers and trying to make a case for picking up the pieces for the jurisdiction of other orders of government.”

The city wants to offer a $35 monthly pass for eligible low income transit users. A city report estimates about 20,000 low income transit passes would be sold each month.

“That mobility could be life-changing for certain families,” said Iveson.

The topic was up for discussion at Monday’s Transportation Committee meeting. Iveson said the city would like to see the pass offered to the city’s most vulnerable, similar to the discounted rate offered at city rec centres, but that it wouldn’t come on the backs of taxpayers.

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“It comes back to the same question, which is asking property tax payers to provide income support for poor Albertans who tend to be over-concentrated in the big cities,” said Iveson. “It’s a small thing the provincial government could do to help us with this to recognize the burden Edmonton and Calgary face with our large low-income populations.”

Edmonton used to receive a $7-million grant from the province to offset the lack of property taxes coming in from low-income and seniors housing, which do not pay property taxes. However, the grant was cut in last spring’s Progressive Conservative budget. Despite asking, the grant was not reinstated by the NDP in its October budget.

“At some point we really do need partnerships with other orders of government,” said Iveson. “If we had tools other than property tax we could talk about this, but it’s just so unfair to ask businesses and struggling families to use property tax to prop up these social programs.”

The city is also exploring other options, which include a $1 pay-as-you-go cash fare and free transit passes for the homeless.

In September, the City of Edmonton approved a proposal to provide free local transit to 100 vulnerable youth.