More than 160 organizations write to Premier Christy Clark opposing changes to bus passes for people with disabilities

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      (This letter was released to the public in response to this year's provincial budget.)

      May 18, 2016

      Dear Premier Clark:

      We are writing in response to your government’s budget, tabled on February 16, 2016, which announced a modest increase of $77 to persons with disabilities benefits while also drastically changing important programs that improve access to transportation for many people with disabilities. For the reasons set out in this letter, our organizations strongly oppose the changes to the BC Bus Pass Program and the Special Transportation Subsidy. We call on the government to leave these programs in place, and to provide a meaningful rate increase for all income assistance and disability assistance recipients.

      The BC Bus Pass Program currently offers an annual bus pass at a reduced cost of $45 per year for disability assistance recipients in areas where BC Transit and Translink operate. The Special Transportation Subsidy provides a lump sum subsidy to people who reside in an area where the Bus Pass Program operates, but are unable to use public transit because of a disability, to help offset the cost of alternative transportation.  Approximately 55,000 of the 100,000 provincial disability assistance recipients rely on one of these two transportation programs. Many of our organizations work directly with people with disabilities, and all are acutely aware of the importance of these programs to ensure people are able to move about their communities, whether that be to shop for basic necessities, attend medical appointments, go to school, or take part in social gatherings.

      As you know, those who rely on these programs will now be charged $52/month for a bus pass, or $66/month for the Special Transportation Subsidy. This means that for those recipients, the rate increase is actually only $25 or $11, respectively. Further, the government has said that it will still charge the $45 per year “administrative fee” on top of that. Promoting the change as a $77 increase to disability rates is misleading and unfair. While the government maintains that its aim is to make the system fairer for people with disabilities who do not currently receive support for transportation, the proposed changes are not the right approach.

      It has been almost a decade since the government has increased income assistance and disability rates—and at $906 per month, disability assistance rates in BC are among the lowest in the country. In Alberta, for example, the government increased the comparable disability benefit (Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH)) to $1588 in 2012. The recently announced $77 increase to BC’s disability assistance rates would be a welcome (if inadequate) change, if it were truly providing that increase to all.

      When the change was announced, the Honourable Minister of Finance Michael de Jong spoke about how it would allow those on disability assistance “the freedom to make their own choice about how to meet their own unique transportation needs”.  For many living in poverty in BC, this is not a real choice. While the $77 increase will undeniably help those living outside the areas where the Bus Pass Program and Special Transportation Subsidy operate, it creates an impossible choice for those that do rely on these transportation programs. With disability assistance frozen at a paltry $906 per month—an amount clearly inadequate to meet basic needs—it will be difficult not to opt to put the $77 each month toward previously unmet needs like food or rent. The Bus Pass Program and Special Transportation Subsidy allowed vulnerable members of our communities to make a $45 purchase once per year, and then have a reliable method of transportation year-round. The proposed changes to these programs will result in social isolation for those who “choose” not to renew, particularly for those with disabilities that restrict their mobility.

      Finally, we are concerned about implementation of the proposed changes, which will inevitably be fraught with practical problems for both disability assistance recipients and Ministry staff. Over the last several years, there has been a radical shift from in-person services at local Ministry offices to services that are primarily delivered through a centralized phone line and over the internet. Wait times on the phone line are long, and many users of Ministry services lack the reliable phone or computer access required to access the services—and may also lack the capacity to navigate the new systems. It is difficult to reach Ministry staff at all, let alone the appropriate staff for a particular matter. Many that rely on the current transportation programs fear they will be unable to access Ministry staff in a timely way to resolve the issues that arise, and that staff will be ill-equipped to address the problems.

      As our provincial government tabled its budget, it celebrated BC’s strong financial outlook. Minister de Jong emphasized that BC is in a position to “offer greater support to the most vulnerable among us.”   It is long past due for the government to make real commitments to do just that – and to share some of this province’s wealth with the members of our communities that need it most.

      Our organizations collectively urge you to:

      • Bring back the $45 per year bus pass for people with disabilities;
      • Eliminate the new $52/month bus pass fee;
      • Allow everyone receiving PWD benefits to keep the $77/month increase;
      • Bring back the Special Transportation Subsidy, and introduce a rural transportation subsidy for those living outside the areas where the Bus Pass Program and Special Transportation Subsidy operate; and
      • Raise income and disability assistance significantly by October 1, 2016 to reflect the cost of living, and then index to inflation.


      1. Aboriginal Front Door
      2. Action Committee of People with Disabilities
      3. Africa Great Lakes Networking Foundation (AGL)
      4. AIDS Network, Outreach & Support Society (ANKORS)
      5. AIDS Vancouver Island
      6. AiMHi – Prince George Association for Community Living
      7. AMS Bike Co-op
      8. Anglican Eco-Justice Unit, Diocese of New Westminster
      9. ASPECT BC
      10. Association Advocating for Women & Children (AWAC) – Prince George
      11. Association of Neighbourhood Houses of BC
      12. BC ACORN
      13. BC Association of Child Development and Intervention
      14. BC Association of Social Workers
      15. BC Council for Families
      16. BC Federation of Community Social Services
      17. BC Federation of Labour
      18. BC Federation of Retired Union Members (BC FORUM)
      19. BC Federation of Students
      20. BC Government and Service Employees’ Union
      21. BC Health Coalition
      22. BC Initiative for Inclusive Post-secondary Education (STEPS Forward)
      23. BC Non-Profit Housing Association
      24. BC Nurses Union
      25. BC Poverty Reduction Coalition
      26. BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre
      27. BC Teachers’ Federation
      28. BeConnected Support Services
      29. Beneath One Sky Community Support Society
      30. British Columbia Schizophrenia Society
      31. British Columbia Schizophrenia Society, Prince George Branch
      32. Burnaby Community Services
      33. Campbell River and District Association for Community Living
      34. Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – BC Office
      35. Canadian Deaf Blind Association, BC Chapter
      36. Canadian Mental Health Association, North and West Vancouver Branch
      37. Carnegie Community Action Project
      38. Cerebral Palsy Association of BC
      39. Chilliwack Society for Community Living
      40. Citizens for Accessible Neighbourhoods
      41. Claytree Society for People with Developmental Disabilities
      42. Clements Centre Society
      43. Committee to End Homelessness, Victoria
      44. Community Integration Services Society
      45. Community Legal Assistance Society
      46. Community Living Society
      47. Community Living Victoria
      48. Community Social Planning Council of Greater Victoria
      49. Community Ventures Society
      50. Cool-aid Society – YES
      51. COSCO (Council of Senior Citizens’ Organizations of B.C.)
      52. Cowichan Valley Basket Society
      53. Cridge Centre for the Family
      54. Dandelion Society
      55. Dawson Creek Society for Community Living
      56. Delta Community Living Society
      57. Disability Alliance BC
      58. Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House
      59. Elizabeth Fry Society of Greater Vancouver
      60. Empowered Living Services
      61. Faith in Action
      62. Family Net
      63. Family Services of Greater Vancouver
      64. Family Support Institute of BC
      65. Federation of Post-Secondary Educators
      66. First Call: BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition
      67. Fort St. John Society for Community Living
      68. Fraser Valley Brain Injury Association
      69. Fraserside Community Services Society
      70. Gitskan Government Commission
      71. Gordon Neighbourhood House
      72. Greater Trail Community Skills Centre
      73. O.M.E.S – Healthy Opportunities for Meaningful Experience Society
      74. Health Sciences Association of BC
      75. Hospital Employees’ Union
      76. Inclusion BC
      77. Inclusion BC Foundation
      78. Inclusion Kamloops
      79. Inclusion Parksville
      80. Inclusion Powell River
      81. Indigenous Women’s Action Group
      82. Interdependent Investments
      83. Interior BC Community Services Co-operative
      84. Intersect Youth and Family Services Society
      85. It’s My Life Kamloops Society
      86. Kamloops and District Labour Council
      87. Kindale Developmental Association
      88. Kiwassa Neighbourhood House
      89. Kootenay Advocacy Network
      90. Kwantlen Public Interest Research Group – KPIRG
      91. Lifetimes Networks Victoria
      92. Living Wage for Families Campaign
      93. Megaphone Magazine
      94. Mid-Main Community Health Centre
      95. Milieu Family Services
      96. Mission Association for Community Living
      97. Mom2Mom Child Poverty Initiative
      98. MoveUP
      99. MSA Society for Community Living
      100. Mustard Seed Church
      101. Nanaimo Association for Community Living
      102. Nelson CARES Society
      103. Nelson Committee on Homelessness
      104. Nelson Community Services Centre
      105. New Perspectives on Community Living Society
      106. New Westminster & District Labour Council
      107. North Shore ConneXions
      108. North Shore Disability Resource Centre
      109. Oasis Society
      110. Our Place Society
      111. Pacific Centre Family Services Association
      112. Pacific Community Resources Society
      113. Pacific Developmental Pathways Limited
      114. Parent Support Services Society of BC
      115. Pathways Abilities Society
      116. Penticton and District Society for Community Living
      117. Pivot Legal Society
      118. Pivot Point Family Growth Centre
      119. PLAN – Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network
      120. PLAN Institute
      121. Port Alberni Association for Community Living
      122. PosAbilities
      123. Princeton and District Community Services Society
      124. Raging Grannies of Maple Ridge
      125. Raise the Rates BC
      126. Realistic Success Recovery Society
      127. Realize Coop
      128. Richmond Centre for Disability
      129. Richmond Poverty Response Committee
      130. Richmond Society for Community Living
      131. Ridge Meadows Association for Community Living
      132. Salvation Army Stan Hagen Centre for Families
      133. Sea to Sky Community Services Society
      134. Semiahmoo House Society
      135. Shuswap Association for Community Living
      136. Simon Fraser Public Interest Research Group (SFPIRG)
      137. Sisters of St. Ann Social Justice Committee
      138. Slocan Valley Seniors Housing Society
      139. Social Planning and Research Council BC (SPARC)
      140. Society for Children and Youth of BC
      141. Society of Intravenous Drug Users – S.O.L.I.D.
      142. John the Divine, Victoria
      143. Vincent de Paul, Victoria
      144. STEPS Forward
      145. Sunshine Coast Association for Community Living
      146. Terrace and District Community Services Society
      147. Thompson Community Services
      148. Thompson Okanagan Community Services Co-operative
      149. Together Against Poverty Society
      150. Trail FAIR Society
      151. Umbrella Society for Addictions and Mental Health
      152. Vancity Community Foundation
      153. Vancouver and District Labour Council
      154. Vancouver Island Persons Living with HIV/AIDS Society (VPWAS)
      155. Vancouver Island Public Interest Research Group (VIPIRG)
      156. Vela Microboard Association of BC
      157. Victoria Disability Resource Centre
      158. Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society – VIRCS
      159. Victoria Native Friendship Centre
      160. Victoria Youth Clinic
      161. Williams Lake Association for Community Living
      162. Women Against Violence Against Women – Rape Crisis Center (WAVAW)

      c. Hon. Mike de Jong, MLA, Minister of Finance

      Hon. Michelle Stilwell, MLA, Minister of Social Development and Social Innovation

      John Horgan, MLA, Leader of the Opposition

      Michelle Mungall, MLA Nelson – Creston