We believe it is high time to make public transit affordable for all Montrealers. The Anti-poverty committee of Project Genesis has been fighting for a social fare at the STM for seven years, a reduced price for people who are living under the poverty line.
Last year, Mayor Plante came out in favour of this. It was rumoured that this fall, the Autorité régionale de transport métropolitain (ARTM)—the agency responsible for setting the public transit prices for the greater Montreal area—was going to do a public consultation on the question. However, fall is just around the corner and we have not heard a peep from the ARTM.
While we are waiting for politicians and bureaucrats to get their act together, many of us have a hard time moving around the city. When your monthly income is limited to the paltry welfare cheque of $669, an amount that usually fails to even cover rent and food, buying a bus pass is out of the question.
In fact, the price of a regular monthly pass, at $86.50, is prohibitive for most people on a low income. Precarious workers, working part time, on call or on minimum wage, also struggle to get where they need to be. Not to mention, how are people supposed to find a job, when they may not be able to afford a ticket to the interview?
Access to public transit shouldn’t be a luxury for low income residents and for people with disabilities—having the freedom to move in your city is a basic human need. Everyone needs to take the bus or the Métro for all kinds of reasons: shopping for discounts for groceries, getting to medical appointments, getting a book from the library, being there for your friend, going to your local food bank, visiting family, and going to Verdun beach to enjoy a bit of summer.
Having to buy a limited number of tickets can make people depressed– they must think really hard about each trip taken, each ticket used, which contributes to social isolation. People feel shut in, stuck in their neighborhood.
Going out and having fun around the city makes you feel a part of society, makes you feel alive. People who have a low income have a right to access their city’s services. In fact, they may need them even more than the rest of the population.
Projects like the Réseau express métropolitain (REM) show signs that the municipal government wants to expand Montreal’s public transport network and reach more people in the wider Metropolitan area. Unless accompanied by a social fare, such projects mean little for low income people who live in the outskirts of the city, whose exclusion from the public transit system will remain the same.
A social fare in public transport is not a dream. It’s being implemented in other Canadian cities and all over the world. Last year, Toronto started implementing their Fair Pass Program. This reduced fare is applied to monthly passes and to single passes.
In Calgary, in 2017, the city council approved a sliding scale fare for low-income residents, which means eligible users could pay as little as $5.30 for their monthly pass. In Paris, their Réduction Solidarité Transport is aimed at unemployed people and gives a 50% discount for a single pass and 75% discount for the monthly pass.
The least the ARTM can do is give the same discount to low-income residents as those already given to students and seniors. However, it is our belief that we should be moving towards free transit for those who live under the poverty line. Commuting without a second thought is something many of us may take for granted, but for low income Montrealers, it is a major struggle. But it doesn’t have to be.