Transit woes: Compass Card and Changes to the BC Bus Pass Program

By Stacey Francis

Update from CPABC:

As reported in our February newsletter, changes to the BC Persons With Disabilities (PWD) program are impacting those who access the Bus Pass Program. While the changes offer a tiny and long overdue rate increase, they also include a significant cost increase to the annual subsidized bus pass. The annual bus pass provides freedom and independence for many people with disabilities, and the changes therefore represent a difficult choice between opting out of the program and receiving a slightly higher increase to monthly PWD benefits, or paying $624 more per year to access the subsidized bus pass.

On our members’ behalf, the CPABC met with Michelle Stilwell, Minister of Social Development and Social Innovation, and her staff. We raised your concerns about the PWD increase and bus passes. While we obviously were unsuccessful in securing greater funding, we did get clarification that procedures to buy and access bus passes will remain unchanged. Once the $45 annual administrative fee is paid, program participants will receive an annual bus pass and monthly charges will be made directly to their benefits.

There is a Fact Sheet available here.

Compass Card confusion

Many changes have and will be made to transportation systems and services around BC and Metro Vancouver. Not only did TransLink make changes, so did the Ministry of Social Development in regards to the BC Bus Pass Program. TransLink replaced paper bus passes with Compass Cards, fare gates will be closing, and clients receiving PWD (Persons with Disabilities) benefits and use who also the BC Bus Pass Program will be expected to pay a $45 administration fee per year and $52 monthly fee in order to keep their yearly buss pass. Disabled people around Metro Vancouver and BC are outraged.

Fare evasion is and always will be an issue in Metro Vancouver. In an effort to solve this issue, the Compass Card system was put into effect and paper bus passes were discontinued. It seems as though Trans Link fails to consider the implications of these changes especially when it comes to disabled people in Metro Vancouver.

Switching from the old paper buss passes has seemed to cause confusion for BC Transit drivers outside of Metro Vancouver. The BC Bus Pass is issued as a Compass Card to residents of Metro Vancouver and is valid all throughout BC, but unfortunately bus drivers who are unfamiliar with the new Compass Card may not accept them. On a previous trip to Squamish, a transit driver would not accept my Compass Card due to the fact that in smaller communities, people use paper bus passes. A TransLink representative confirmed that people using the BC Bus Pass Program can still use their pass all throughout BC regardless of whether or not they have Compass Cards or paper passes.

Not only are Compass Cards causing confusion, they are also going to make commuting by transit challenging and inconvenient for disabled people. On April 4th, 2016 fare gates will be closed and tapping in and out of sky train stations will be mandatory. Many if not all disabled people who use the transit system are concerned. Having to tap in and out upon entering and exiting sky train stations is going to make transiting a much slower process. People are also concerned that having to constantly take out your Compass Card increases the chances of it being lost or stolen. One of our members at CPABC voices their concern in an interview,

When they are closed, I will have no choice but to tap in and tap out. I’m really nervous about it because there is a 95% chance. I could lose the Compass Card.”

 

Along with the issue of a lost or stolen card comes the issue of the fare gates themselves. Fare gates close very quickly and if you are someone with a mobility challenge this will make transiting even more difficult. Having transit staff at all the fare gates does not change the uneasy feeling disabled people have about the gates being closed.

Regardless, I still need to shuffle, maneuver and make sure I have the Compass Card on me at all times, on my person. I don’t want to carry it around and act like it makes me uneasy. But I have no choice.” – CPABC member.

 

Bus Pass changes called “clawback”

In September of this year we will be paying even more for our inconvenient transit service in light of a PWD rate increase. People who receive PWD benefits will be expected to pay $45 per year plus a $52 monthly fee that will be coming directly out of your PWD assistance. Making these changes will supposedly even out the discrepancy between those who use the BC Bus Pass Program, those who receive the annual Special Transportation Subsidy (STS), and people who don’t receive a transit subsidy at all.  However, people who receive the STS have never had to pay an annual administration fee, and will not be impacted by an increase in annual cost like those on the Bus Pass Program. Very few people use the STS in Metro Vancouver. According to an online article titled BC Libs Ruin Disability Rates Increase with Insulting Transit Claw back, there are 20,000 people receiving STS and 35,000 people using the BC Bus Pass.

While the discrepancies between the various BC transit programs will be evened out, those on the bus pass program will end up paying significantly more for the annual pass, leaving them with a $25 dollar monthly increase. Anyone receiving PWD benefits will know that $25 does not go very far.  PWD rates have not been raised in nine years and this is not a fair raise.

On March 10th, 2016 the petition to raise PWD rates and end the BC bus pass “clawback” was delivered to Minister Stilwell. The petition has over 15,000 signatures both online and hand written. My hope is that people with disabilities will not have to choose between a bus pass and a very low increase or get a full $77 increase and no bus pass. It’s clear that the bus pass is very beneficial to disabled people and they are quite upset about the bus pass “clawback”.

What our members have to say

Here are some of the things that our members had to say about the changes:

I have been using the transit system in the lower mainland for quite a few years now. It has enabled me to be independent and given me a sense of freedom that I may not have had otherwise. Living with Cerebral Palsy has not been easy as it has put a lot of barriers in the way and being fortunate enough to have transit in the lower mainland has really helped me to get out in the community and give back. For that I am grateful…. I am shocked to be in this predicament of having to decide whether to take the increase of $931.42; that is a $25 increase with the bus pass or $983.42, a $77 increase without it.” – Shayne De Wildt

 

I wouldn’t be independent and I would have to relook at where I live. I don’t think that people understand how much a lifeline the bus pass is because with it being 45 dollars it’s very affordable but with the change it would be 55 dollars which makes it difficult since a lot of people on PWD (persons with disability) have a fixed income.” – Samantha Collett

 

Yes! It does affect me and others big time. I’m on disability benefit which I received $750/month. I paid $460/month for rent and the rest of the money that I live on for the whole month.” – Kim Do

 

Public transit in BC is clearly an essential service for people with disabilities. Recent changes have made the transit systems less convenient and more costly. At the same time, increases to PWD benefits are long overdue and shouldn’t come with an increased cost for inconvenient services.

The Government needs to stop the cuts to the pass. Just leave it alone. And give us the increase for the first time in nine years”. Spring Rhodes

 

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