In February, the government announced a modest increase of $77 a month to individuals receiving Persons With Disabilities benefits (PWD), to begin in September, while also drastically changing important programs that improve access to transportation for many people with disabilities.
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 (STS) provides a lump sum subsidy to people who reside in an area where the Bus Pass Program operates but who 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. TAPS works directly with people with disabilities, and is acutely aware of the importance of these programs in ensuring that people are able to move about their communities, whether that be to shop for basic necessities, attend medical appointments, or take part in social gatherings.
Beginning September 1, 2016, those who rely on the bus pass program will be charged $52 a month for a bus pass, leaving a real PWD rate increase of only $25. Further, the government has said that it will still charge the $45 per year “administrative fee” on top of the $52.
Every year, clients who get the Special Transportation Subsidy receive a one-time payment, equivalent to $66 per month. This year, in April, these clients will receive a prorated cheque for $329. This represents five months of STS (April to August 2016). Clients will receive a letter to explain the prorated STS amount. Starting in September, these clients will automatically receive the monthly PWD rate increase of $77, which replaces the STS amount, leaving them a real increase of merely $11 a month.
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. With the government announcing projected surpluses into 2018 and the creation of a “prosperity fund,” we believe it is beyond time that all British Columbians should be supported to prosper.
TAPS urges the government to:
- bring back the $45 per year bus pass for people with disabilities;
- eliminate the new $52 per month bus pass fee;
- allow everyone receiving PWD benefits to keep the $77 per month increase;
- 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 index rates to inflation.