By Kevin Werner, News Staff
Hamilton councillors extended the date to raise fares for disabled people, including those who are visually impaired, to April 1 from Jan. 1.
During those 90 days, councillors will examine the city’s revised transit fare policy, which they approved in October, to conform to the provincial Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
Yet, city staff warned politicians during the Dec. 12 council meeting, the city will not be in compliance with the AODA legislation. Municipalities are required to have their revised transit fare policies in place by Jan. 1, 2013.
“It’s not a major risk,” said Don Hull, director of transit. “But it doesn’t remove all risk.”
Ward 4 councillor Sam Merulla, who had initially wanted to re-consider council’s motion that had initially approved the new transit fare policy, said other communities have revisited the issue, including Burlington, and Toronto.
“It was a misunderstanding,” said Merulla. “Clearly, it was a decision based on AODA legislation.”
The city’s revised fare policy would force people with mobility devices, and the visually impaired, who have a card from the Canadian National Institute of the Blind, to pay full fare. Cardholders now receive free transit service on city transit buses. A monthly transit pass is $87 per month, while a cash fare is $2.55, while the cost to use the Disabled and Aged Regional Transport System (DARTS) is $2.35.
Councillors are also concerned more people will be forced to use the already overworked DARTS service, creating further difficulties.
Steven Reavley, vice-president of the Hamilton chapter of the Canadian Council of the Blind, said if the fare policy remained in place, it would cause financial hardship for visually impaired individuals who use public transit to get to work. He said about 30 per cent are already on social service programs, and a fare increase will eat up a major portion of their revenue.
Hamiltonhas had the transit program for the visually impaired, and people with mobility devices for decades.
Hullcountered the fare recommendations suggested by staff adhere to the provincial legislation.
“The staff position is the appropriate recommendation,” he said.
Hull suggested since councillors were not at a “level of understanding” to accept the fare transit policy, further discussion is needed, including with the public.
“So council can have sufficient comfort level,” said Hull.