Rural communities are gaining bus passes

Editorial

Tuesday, March 8 2016

When it comes to the disability payments and bus passes, the BC Government appears to be trying to balance the difference between people who received just the base rate, and those who were receiving the base rate with some form of transportation assistance above and beyond the base rate.

If that was the goal of the government, they could have - at the very least - have increased the base rate to where it would be if it had kept pace with the cost of living over the past nine years.

Under the new payments, starting September 1, those on disabilities assistance will receive $983 per month.

Had that base rate kept pace with the consumer price index for BC, the base rate should be $998 (once the $77 is included). Still not enough for many of those needing assistance, but it would at least be in line with increases in living costs.

People are not losing bus passes though. The government has changed a transportation program which only benefitted half of those on disabilities assistance, and opened the funding up so that people can choose what to spend those dollars on. 

It means the people who were not receiving that transportation assistance will.

There are a lot things the BC NDP has rightly held the BC Liberals and Premier Christy Clark to task on. But the BC NDP needs to get off this protest bus, especially when the program will be serving so many of their core voters in coastal communities. Voters who are at least getting the same rate as people living in the urban areas.

Under the old program, bus passes and transportation subsidies were paid by the government for roughly 55,000 residents of BC. The other 45,000, many of whom live in smaller communities, received nothing in terms of transportation assistance over and above their base disability payment.

When the government announced it was increasing the base payment by $77 per month per person, staff made it clear that a portion of that $77 could still be spent on a bus pass - if individuals wanted to do so.

Those residents (45,000 of them) with no previous Transportation Subsidy or ‘Free’ Bus pass previously received $906 per month for disability assistance. They will now receive $77 more per month, for a total of $983. Former ‘BC Bus Pass’ holders (35,000 across BC) and Transportation Subsidy Clients (20,000) received $906, as well as a bus pass valued at $52 per month or subsidy for $66 per month. These former Bus Pass Holders and Subsidy recipients will now receive $983 per month in cash, the same amount as those who previously were unable to get a bus pass.

The new program allows for more flexibility, and pays out equally for everyone. 

Ferry travel; Community Bus systems; Taxis; Food; Housing; presents for friends; it’s all up to the individual on how to spend that money. 

At a Gabriola level, what perfect timing! 

This change in the funding came through just as GERTIE got the go-ahead for funding, as well as the start of the taxi saver program.

The Liberals continue to find ways to prove they are not the right government for BC. Their method of governing-for-sound-bytes is getting old and tired.

But this one program, it passes a critical test, and that is it has the potential to serve the wider need in ways which are better than the previous program.