Sophia Catania / The Silhouette

Hamiltonians have been voicing uninformed, negative opinions regarding the city’s motion to move away from the current Voluntary Pay program. This transit policy exempts physically disabled individuals from paying the standard fare to ride an HSR bus. However, one must take the time to look at the changes that are being made. It is clear that the city is making a valid improvement by introducing fare parity on public transit.

The Voluntary Pay program is unique to only a handful of cities in Ontario. Of the few cities that still use it, many have begun to adopt a Fare Parity policy. People with disabilities pay standard fares in most cities across the province.

The reason these cities use a Fare Parity policy is to ensure no discrimination takes place. Those advocating against fare parity have criticized the city’s interpretation of the Ontario Transportation Standard made under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) 2005. This act prohibits the use of a two-tiered fare system. The general public is reminding the city that AODA is intended to prohibit a two-tiered system that charges the disabled a higher fare, not charging them a lesser fare.

Despite this, allowing individuals with physical disabilities to ride the bus for free creates a two-tiered system that discriminates against people who are forced to pay the standard fare and favours certain disabled groups. The HSR determines what disabilities are eligible for the Voluntary Pay program. Currently, anyone relying on the use of a wheelchair, scooter, walker, and/or cane is exempt from paying the standard fare. This is discriminating against other disabled groups, such as those suffering from mental disorders.

In response to the community’s concerns, the city has deferred their decision until April 3, in the hopes that a method of evaluating individual circumstances can be developed. If they are successful, the Fare Parity policy may not be enacted. Instead, the Voluntary Pay program will remain with modifications. The city will attempt to develop a confidential testing system to determine if standard fare is beyond one’s means, regardless of the nature of their disability.

The problem then lies in determining who would qualify for such fare exemptions. The most feasible solution to this problem is to replace the Voluntary Pay Program with the Fare Parity policy. This will eliminate any discrimination, without introducing the difficult task of picking and choosing which disabilities should qualify for fare exemptions. Are people with physical disabilities exempt from paying the standard fare because they must rely primarily on public transportation? Does their disability impede them from being able to afford the standard fare rate? If this is true, it should also be true for those with disabilities beyond physical impairments, such as an individual with Autism or suffering from depression.

Many people have argued that the city is imposing an unnecessary financial burden onto the physically disabled. However, there are many systems in place to provide individuals with affordable public transportation. For example, the Affordable Transit Pass program allows those with yearly incomes below $17,570 to purchase an HSR monthly pass for half the price. Anyone can apply for this program, including those with physical and mental disabilities.

In 1996, 25 wheelchair accessible low floor buses were introduced in Hamilton, allowing passengers with disabilities to the use the HSR. However, only a handful of accessible buses existed.

People with physical disabilities often had to wait for an accessible bus to come. As such, it was decided that it would be an effective compromise to adopt a voluntary pay system for those users. Today, the entire fleet of over 200 buses is wheelchair accessible. Therefore, all users can use the HSR at any time. A compromise is no longer necessary.

The city has finally realized the need to re-evaluate the function of the outdated Voluntary Pay program. The Fare Parity policy is simply the best method of ensuring fair and inclusive transit for everyone in the city of Hamilton.

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