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Alberta pulls funding help for low-income transit riders in Edmonton and Calgary

EDMONTON — The mayors of Alberta’s two biggest cities say the province has pulled at least $12 million in funding meant to help low-income residents access public transit.

Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said the move is an insult to Calgarians already struggling to get by.

“I am appalled,” Gondek said Tuesday in a statement.

She said demand for the program had only been growing.

The Calgary program works on a sliding scale with those most in need paying as little as $5.80 a month for a transit pass. 

A regular adult monthly pass, by comparison, costs $115.

Gondek said the city saw more than 119,000 low-income passes issued in the first three months of this year to aid those living below the poverty line.

Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said the end of the provincial subsidy will make life more expensive for 25,000 residents every month, including students and seniors.

“At a time when Edmontonians are struggling to afford their basic needs and demand for this program has increased 150 per cent since 2016, the decision to defund this program in Edmonton and Calgary shows that the province’s priorities are in the wrong place,” Sohi said in a statement.

The change comes seven months after Premier Danielle Smith’s United Conservative government announced it had expanded support for the low-income transit pass, with programs in 10 other cities, to combat the rising cost of living.

At the time, it said it had allocated $14 million in annual funding for the program, including $6 million each for Edmonton and Calgary. 

In a statement to The Canadian Press, Alexandru Cioban, spokesperson for Social Services Minister Jason Nixon, declined to answer why the funding is being shuffled, but said $5 million is now going to support transportation programs for low-income Albertans in rural communities.

“As transit is a municipal responsibility in the two big cities, we are investing more in core services delivered by the province like homelessness and housing,” he said.

Lorne Dach, the transportation critic for Alberta’s Opposition NDP, called the UCP’s decision “extremely cruel.”

“Municipalities are already grappling with insufficient funding from the province, and now the UCP is downloading further responsibility onto them by callously ripping funding away from services that assist low-income Albertans to access transit,” Dach said. 

Gondek and Dach said the decision shows the province has misplaced priorities given Smith announced on Monday a $9-million commitment to develop a 15-year plan to build a provincewide rail system.

“Smith doesn’t seem concerned if Albertans can afford to take the bus to get to their jobs or access health care, so long as she can put her name on a rail plan that may or may not materialize by the year 2039,” Dach said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 30, 2024.

Lisa Johnson, The Canadian Press

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