Outrage over cuts to bus program

Removing the independence of our most vulnerable citizens should have the whole community outraged, says Sheila Adcock.

Removing the independence of our most vulnerable citizens should have the whole community outraged, says Sheila Adcock.

The Trail-based coordinator for Career Development Services (CDS) was speaking about the province’s 2016 tabled budget – which put an end to a monthly $66 special transport subsidy and the $45 annual bus pass for Persons with Disabilities (PWD).

Granted those with a PWD designation will receive a $77 per month increase to benefits effective Sept. 1 – that amount will be greatly offset by the cost of public transportation.

In Trail, and throughout the West Kootenay, an adult pass for BC Transit is $50 per month or $90 for multi-zone use.

“As service providers we are pretty upset as the majority of the individuals we support with disabilities depend on their bus pass to increase their community inclusion opportunities as well as employment,” Adcock emphasized.

“If they lose the bus pass or transportation subsidy then they will lose their independence, depending on others to drive them around,” she added. “We are also then concerned with their safety as the individuals on PWD are very vulnerable and having to take chances with asking for others for rides opens up all kinds of issues around community safety.”

Adcock joined Inclusion BC’s growing wave of opposition by getting word out about a change.org online petition to Premier Christy Clark and Minister Michelle Stilwell, titled, “Raise the rates, leave our bus pass alone.”

The petition has garnered 12,400 signatures to date.

BC disability benefit rates of $906 per month are among the lowest in the country, Inclusion BC states on the petition. The amount has increased only by $120 since 2001.

The government’s stance is the $77 monthly increase provides fairness in the system and more choice for approximately 100,000 people currently on disability assistance.

The new even rates mean everyone on disability will receive $983 per month, instead of how the system is set up now, which has clients with no transportation costs receiving $906, those with bus passes $958, and others with special transportation subsidies, $972.

The negative implications are already surfacing on the population CDS supports, Adcock counters.

“They are very upset and confused as to how this will affect them and the process they will have to follow,” she added. “Keep in mind, to qualify for PWD services, you have to prove it.”

First, the person must prove he, or she, has a severe medical, physical, learning, or mental health diagnosis, that will last beyond two years.

And, applicants must prove the condition affects their ability to complete daily living activities.

“This population is now expected to not only deal with these issues on a daily basis,” Adcock said. “But also a government that is taking away what little independence and self respect they may have left.”

Without an annual bus pass or special transport funding, grocery shopping will be affected and getting to physician appointments, work or community events will become a challenge or opportunities missed, she reiterated.

“They will need to depend on others to drive them and if they don’t have family or friends able to take on that role, then they will not get their needs met,” she said. “Living on $906 per month is hard enough…so an increase is definitely warranted but not if it is clawed back to provide independence to this very vulnerable population.”

To read the petition visit inclusionbc.org and click on the “Sign the petition” link.