Poverty, Public Transportation, and Priorities

(Trigger warning for abuse. Trigger paragraph in italics)

I think that public transportation should be free to anyone who doesn’t pay income tax because they’re too poor. Public transportation doesn’t exist for the sole purpose of reducing our carbon emissions. It is a way for people to get to work if they can’t afford a car. It’s a way for teenagers to have independence. It’s a mode of transportation for the public.

Poverty exists where I live. I live in one of the wealthiest provinces in Canada, and there are people living right next to me in awful, horrifying, unacceptable poverty. But I don’t see them. I don’t know them. I wouldn’t even know about them in any kind of real way if it were not for Mark Cherrington. Mark is a youth worker in Edmonton who tweets about his work with kids and teenagers.

One situation that I’ve seen him tweet about countless times goes like this. Jane (15) has no money. Her mom uses anything she can get her hands on to support her addiction. There’s no money for food. Jane needs to get to school, so she walks to the train and gets on without a fare. It’s one of those rare days there’s transit cops, and she gets a ticket. There’s no way she can pay it. The deadline to pay the fine passes and now there’s a warrant for her arrest. (This seriously has happened to me, but I had the cash to pay the fine.) Her mom’s boyfriend beats her up so much that she calls the cops. They show up and arrest her because she has a warrant. She spends the night in jail, with no medical attention because she didn’t buy a $3 transit fare. Many kids turn to prostitution to pay for their transit tickets. How messed up is that?

This happens. I can’t believe it, but it happens.

I understand that it costs money to build the infrastructure of any transit system, but it’s costing tax payers a lot of money to deal with all of the consequences of tickets issued to people who are so poor they can’t afford to buy fare in the first place. It’s not like we would be missing out on all of the millions of dollars that they are paying into the system.

Currently in Edmonton, there is only a low-income transit pass available for seniors who have an annual income of less than $16,000. So if you’re not a senior, a monthly youth pass is $69 and an adult one is $89. In Calgary, there’s a low-income pass for $44/month, but you have to have a valid address and an income of less than $20,000 if you live on your own.

This doesn’t make any sense. People in poverty can’t afford to feed themselves. They shouldn’t be penalized for using public transportation when that’s their only option.

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