News Local

Protests decry loss of subsidized bus passes

By Rosemary Newton

Protesters at the Commercial SkyTrain station on Thursday. 
SUBMITTED

Protesters at the Commercial SkyTrain station on Thursday. SUBMITTED

Thursday was called a day of action by advocates who say the province has forced those with disabilities to choose between transportation and groceries.

The BC Poverty Reduction Coalition announced Raise the Rates rallies in Nanaimo, Victoria, Richmond, Maple Ridge, Kamloops, Price Rupert and Vancouver to call on an increase to provincial disability benefit rates.

Rates were increased by $77 per month starting Sept. 1. But changes also came to subsidized bus passes. Instead of a $45 yearly pass, people with disabilities can now choose to pay $52 monthly for a pass, adding up to $624 yearly.

“They give with one hand, take with another,” said Tom Page, who marched in Vancouver alongside about 75 other people at a rally that started at Commercial-Broadway SkyTrain Station.

“Most people on disability do not have vehicles, they can’t afford it. And transit is the only way to get around. To put them in a situation where they have to choose between transportation and food is really not fair,” he said.

Page is chair of the B.C. ACORN Disability Rights Group. He said the bus pass has been a rallying point, but is part of larger concerns.

“The real issue is the inadequacy of the disability rate,” he said.

He said the $77 increase does not take into account inflation and that properly addressing the disability rate is long overdue.

“People have been making sacrifices for years now. Giving up on healthy food, skipping meals, not being able to buy adequate clothing. People are unable to have adequate shelter and if they do, it takes all of their income.”

He said many people on disability require income assistance because they are unable to work.

“We’re very frustrated, we’re very upset, we’re very discouraged,” he said. “The stress on people is tearing them apart and on top of people who are already disabled and have illnesses, it’s really unconscionable.”