VICTORIA – A Victoria woman receiving monthly disability payments says she will struggle to make ends meet after British Columbia’s government introduced a fee for a bus pass that had been free.
Eryn Rolston said Wednesday her finances were already stretched on her monthly payment of $906, and she expects that to continue despite a recently announced $77 monthly increase.
Rolston was one of about 300 disabled people who gathered at B.C’s legislature to protest the new bus policy, which now requires disabled people to pay for their own passes. They range in price from $52 to $66 a month, depending on the type of transportation they use.
“They say it’s a choice between getting the bus pass or not,” she said. “But it’s really not a choice when you can’t pay for all of your own food, and you can’t pay for everything you need.”
Rolston, 23, wore a placard that said, “I Got Here On The Bus.” Her bus pass was taped to the placard.
Rolston said she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and mental health issues. She said her disability payments do not include visits to a therapist.
“They say you only need certain things,” she said. “But what about clothes? Clothes wear out. What about just going out and being a person. Honestly, if someone asked me on a date, I have nothing to wear.”
Inclusion BC spokeswoman Faith Bodnar drew cheers from the crowd when she called the government mean and shameful for introducing the fee for the bus pass.
“This is wrong,” she said. “It’s not fair and it’s mean. Poverty is not a choice. Clean up this mess. Give everyone the $77.”
Opposition New Democrat Leader John Horgan said the Liberal government is balancing its budget by short-changing the poor.
He led the crowd in a chant aimed at the premier: “Christy Clark is out of gas, give us back our bus pass.”
Social Development Minister Michelle Stilwell said the government is providing $170 million over three years to increase disability rates, due in September. She said the bus pass change is an attempt to introduce fairness and choice across the system.
Stilwell said the annual budget for the bus-pass program was about $20 million.
In the legislature, Stilwell rejected NDP calls to reinstate the bus passes for the disabled. She called the protest a “photo-op.”
Stilwell, an Olympic and world champion wheelchair athlete, became emotional, saying she knows the daily struggles of people with disabilities and the government is “doing the best we can.”