By Kevin Werner, News Staff
A new transit fare plan adopted by Hamilton councillors in October will be reviewed at the Dec. 12 council meeting.
Ward 4 councillor Sam Merulla has introduced a reconsideration motion requesting that reduced fares for people with personal mobility devices, such as wheelchairs, canes and walkers, and Canadian National Institute of the Blind cardholders be continued.
Politicians approved the transit service’s fare policy for conventional transit and accessible service in October, forcing all people regardless of physical condition to pay the same rate to ride the HSR system. CNIB cardholders have been receiving free transit. A monthly pass for a CNIB cardholder would be $87 per month. An adult cash fare is $2.55.
Stephen Reavley, vice-president of the Hamilton chapter of the Canadian Council of the Blind, urged politicians at a recent government issues committee meeting to reverse their decision.
“I don’t know how these people will eat,” said Reavley.
About 30 per cent of the visually impaired receive some sort of social assistance, and they need free or low-cost public transit to get to their jobs, he said.
“Please don’t hurt them ….,” Reavley said, as he was overcome with emotion.
City staff said Hamilton was required to establish the new policy because under the provincial government’s Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) they believed it prohibited the city from discounting fares to certain groups of people.
“This is the only rational solution we found to be compliant with the legislation,” said Don Hull, transit director. “We see no other way to apply the policy.”
The fare policy is scheduled to start in January, 2013.
But Merulla said after talking to provincial staff, he thinks the city can continue the program.
“There was a misunderstanding,” said Merulla, who originally for the policy.
He said city staff was misinformed about how the AODA would impact the city’s fare policy.
“I have worked in this field since I was 14 years old,” said Merulla. “I recognize the hardship these people will have to endure.”
He said other municipalities, such as Toronto and Burlington, are keeping their fare programs in place.
Merulla also doesn’t want to see people flooding the Disabled and Aged Regional Transportation System (DARTS), which would occur under the new fare policy.
He wants his council colleagues to reverse their decision. He is also advocating that staff establish a series of checks and balances to make sure the program isn’t abused.
Merulla said he was confident his motion will be approved by council.
“I haven’t heard anybody say anything against it,” he said.