HSR ceasing fare-free service for riders with disabilities
Personal mobility device users and visually impaired riders will be required to pay Hamilton bus fair with new Fair Assist Program
Beginning Jan. 1, 2024, personal mobility device users and individuals who are legally blind will be required to pay the standard price for Hamilton Street Railway bus services. This change comes with the implementation of HSR’s new Fare Assist program, which will allow individuals to receive discounts on bus fairs on the basis of household income.
Under the Temporary Transit Fare Special Program, also known as the Voluntary Pay Program, paying the HSR bus fair has been voluntary for PMD users and Canadian National Institute for the Blind cardholders. Both this program and the Affordable Transit Pass Program, which gave monthly bus passes to low income riders at half price, will be replaced by the new Fare Assist program in the next few months.
The new Fare Assist program will provide a 30 per cent discount on single-ride PRESTO bus fares based solely on income. The Fare Assist information website states that it is intended to be a more equitable discount program by being based only on financial need.
Esther Liu, the director of Maccess, McMaster University’s student-lead disability peer support service, believes that if this new program is intended to be more equitable, then the term is being misused or misunderstood by the decision makers involved in the new program.
“Equity [means] understanding that everyone is starting out from different places [and] that people will need different accommodations depending on their circumstances," said Liu.
Liu is also a Humans of McMaster Staff Writer at the Silhouette.
To qualify for the new Fare Assist program, individuals must fall within federal low-income measure after tax, which is based on total household income and the number of household members. Eligible applicants will receive the discount for one year and can reapply each year.
The program could benefit 88,380 Hamilton residents who qualify, according to census data from 2021. Additionally, a recommendation submitted by HSR director Maureen Cosyn Heath to the city of Hamilton Public Works Department stated that “the benefits of this program far exceed the current Affordable Transit Pass program and the Temporary Transit Fare Special Program, making transit more affordable for a much higher number of Hamiltonians.”
According to Tim Nolan of the Accessibility Hamilton Alliance, many Hamilton residents living with disabilities cannot afford to ride the bus if required to pay the fare. Hamilton resident and board member of the Canadian Council of the Blind in Hamilton, Sharon Ruttan, expressed that having to pay for the bus fare in the midst of the rising cost of living will “limit what many of us do on a daily basis.”
Margaret Qin, a volunteer with Maccess, stated that due to the unique experiences and accessibility challenges faced by disabled individuals, shifting to solely provide discounts to low income bus riders is a step in the wrong direction.
“Considering people’s financial situations is definitely a step in the right direction, [but we also need to] consider people’s abilities and what makes it difficult for them to travel.” stated Qin.
Qin elaborated that the Fare Assist program should not take away the voluntary pay program for PMD users and CNIB cardholders. The Fare Assist Program will first be run as a pilot program for two years until 2026. Presently, as it was stated that the voluntary pay program will be suspended when the new Fare Assist program begins, it is unclear if there is the possibility for the voluntary pay program to return in the future.