By Kevin Werner, News Staff
Hamilton councillors are expected to further delay implementing its transit fare policy until June, giving them time to reconsider raising prices for the blind and disabled passengers.
The public works committee members at its March 20 meeting referred its new transit fare parity policy to the April 3 government issues committee meeting for further deliberations. In the meantime, Ward 4 councillor Sam Merulla is scheduled to introduce a motion at the March 27 council meeting to put off implementing the policy until June. The idea is to give councillors more time to review the policy, and possibly reconsider a decision they approved last year.
Merulla is also preparing a motion to establish a means-tested program that would identify the disabled and blind passengers who should have free transit rides, but are unable to afford the cost.
Cathie Mason regional manager for service and operations for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, said during the public works meeting, there are about 3,700 members fromHamiltonwho are legally blind. About 600 people have a CNIB card, and of those people, about 150 who use public transit, she said.
“We need to look at the human side not just the dollars and cents side,” said Stephen Reavley, vice-president for the Canadian Council of the Blind, who first raised the problems the new transit parity fare caused to disabled people last September.
About five people appeared before the committee urging politicians to rescind the policy.
This would be the second time councillors have delayed the new policy. Last September politicians approved raising the price of transit fares and ending the decades old policy of providing free bus passes to legally blind residents and disabled people as part of the city’s fare parity policy.
Councillors had agreed with city staff’s recommendation to establish the fare parity in order to meet the province’s requirements under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
Staff argued the city’s old fare policy could be considered discriminatory under the AODA.
But councillors’ decision prompted a backlash among poverty advocates, disabled and legally blind passengers who argued the city was misinterpreting the law.
Transit Manager Don Hull has stood by his staff’s assessment of the policy. He has stated the city is now in a position of noncompliance since Jan. 1, 2013 with the provincial law.
The delay has also curtailed the change in price for the city’s DARTs disabled transit service. City staff has recommended the price of a ticket should drop in parity to a regular transit ticket. It is expected to cost the city about $450,000 this year.