Sunday, December 3, 2023

New budget initiative could help low income Lethbridge residents ride the bus for free

Low income Lethbridge residents could be getting some assistance with public transportation after a new budget initiative was approved during deliberations. All decisions made at the  economic standing policy committee this week will be forwarded for approval with the budget as a whole at a later council meeting this month.

If approved, the city will allocate $200,000 from GST rebate funds for each of the four years in the budget cycle to provide bus passes to individuals and families who are low income Lethbridge residents. 

Councillor Belinda Crowson brought forward the initiative and said the city essentially piloted the project already with free bus passes for refugees.

BACKGROUND: Lethbridge to provide free bus passes for refugees

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The money will be added to the existing fee assistance program and will be able to provide 2,600 adult monthly bus passes per year, according to the draft budget. 

“We have our fee assistance program — in the past it has been only to provide recreation and cultural activities for people, but it make absolutely no sense that if people can’t actually get to  jobs, get to rec and culture, get to the grocery store etcetera — that we wouldn’t extend the fee assistance program to covering transit passes and that is what this is looking at,” Crowson said.

According to city treasurer Darrell Mathews, the GST fund is running a surplus, with a balance of about $4.2 million. He said there is an average of $1.3 million coming in annually and an outflow of around $1 million.

“This GST funding could be used for other projects so if this $200,000 is taken out of the GST funding, that means that another project that might have been able to access GST funding and if that funding was gone, that program would then have to use taxation to make up that $200,000,” said Councillor Rajko Dodic.

The initiative carried with a 7-2 vote, with Councillor Dodic and John Middleton-Hope opposed.

“We are dealing with high rates of poverty in this community which we well know — we have some of the highest poverty rates in the province. We also know that we are looking right now at about a 4.1 per cent unemployment rate and some people who might want a job, one of the reasons they can’t is actually transportation,” Crowson said. “This could help with some of those issues as well and it could also help with social isolation. Get people out of their home, get them out into the community, get them using our rec and culture. While this looks like it is a transit proposal, it is a proposal about much more.”

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