Thursday, February 11, 2010

Barriers: Getting there

Until a couple of years ago, the Cowichan Valley, which in 2006 had a population of 79,000, hadn't buses running on Sundays, holidays or evenings. Now we do have that service. However, it's inaccessible to the people who could most use it.

It used to be that someone on welfare would automatically get free transit passes. No more. I've no idea when that policy changed, but it was more than five years ago. The issue came up time and again during the WISE project.

Rather than being provided free passes as part of their basic assistance, welfare recipients are required to ask for bus tickets of their 'financial aid' (FA)* workers. Rarely are they given tickets for other than attending job interviews.

This denial of transit fare doesn't stop FA workers from ordering their clients, seemingly at whim, to report in.
Four months ago, I got a red flag on my cheque, which says you’ve got to come in and straighten something out... She went through all my papers and finally found the information that was already there in my file. Then it got flagged again... They already had that information too. This month, it’s flagged again and I don’t know why. Each time I have to come in, I have to pay for the bus fare... It seems like every time I go in for one thing, I get sent off to another place for another thing. Then they want me to get something else. Policies of Exclusion, Poverty & Health: p97f.
People of very low income who are not on welfare are no better off when it comes to access to public transportation. They don't get even the limited 'perks' - occasional bus tickets, coverage for tooth extraction, for example - that people on welfare do. People on disability benefits obtain further advantages, relatively speaking.

Victoria Regional Transit has announced a $0.25 single-fare increase along with attendant increases for passes, effective April. I expect similar increases for Cowichan transit. That will mean $2.00 for a single adult fare and $48 for a monthly pass.

That's not manageable for people whose household income is in the lowest decile income category and is why many of us must walk everywhere. That's not so bad if one is healthy and physically sound - and has good footwear -, but it is bad for people with conditions subject to being exacerbated by the wear and tear.

* Financial aid workers. Now that's a loaded tag, isn't it? As though people of very low income have no idea how to manage money. People like Daphne and I, and a whole lot of others, prove that assumption wrong. How else could one imagine we survive? Perhaps people suppose we can't manage money because they can't manage their own, let alone conceive of living as we do. More about this in coming posts.


Kim said...

There have been further complications with bussing through the province. Apparently, they won't let you on the long haul routes without picture ID. Didn't it used to be the rule that if you couldn't afford it, they couldn't refuse you a ride?

Chrystal Ocean said...

Don't know about that last, Kim. But requiring picture ID for the long hauls is hugely problematic, isn't it? Why don't the powers-that-be who make the decisions and design policy for the purportedly productive just come out and say it? - people of low income, many among whom do UNPAID and hence deemed un-valued work, aren't wanted, period.

Of relevance: Who's Counting, a film by the National Film Board of Canada featuring feminist economist Marilyn Waring. It's available for online viewing.