PAY YOUR FARE AND TAKE YOUR CHANCES. That’s how it is now for Ontario seniors who use public transit. They might get as much as a $450 yearly tax benefit to offset what they spend on fares—and they might not.
Recent cuts made by the Ford government reduced the budget to pay for those tax benefits by 75% (from $9.7 million to just $3.6 million). That may be too much too soon.
The spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Transportation says, “no negative impacts to seniors are anticipated.” Ricardo Tranjan finds that hard to believe.
Cutting too much, too soon
Tranjan is a senior researcher with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ Ontario office, he used Statistics Canada data to estimate that more than 37,000 seniors in Ontario could claim this credit in 2019, with refunds totalling $6.6 million—an amount getting close to double what the province has now set aside.
For its part, the province argues the payouts from the program have been well below the original $9.7 budget. Trajan counters that the low uptake depends on many factors, including the fact most seniors don’t even know about it.
Tranjan argues that the government should work to improve the program rather than make cuts. He suggests, for example, that the government invest a portion of the savings from the program’s first years to promote the tax credit and ensure that as many people as possible receive the refunds they are eligible for in 2019.
He also suggests the government expand program eligibility and increase limits so that more people receive more support. For example, the government could have increased refund amounts for low-income seniors.
Finally, Tranjan points out that cutting the budget so quickly makes no allowance for the fact that program costs are bound to rise as more seniors learn about it and use it; and that transit fares are also bound to rise, which will in turn increase the total amount of individual claims.
“In short,” says Tranjan, “there was not enough evidence to cut two-thirds of the estimated cost of the program.”
Headed in the wrong direction
TTCRiders, an advocacy group for public transit users, says thousands of seniors on fixed incomes have benefited from the tax credit and the cut could mean public transit will become more expensive for people 65 and older.
According to Shelagh Pizey-Allen, executive director of TTC Riders, the program has made a difference to seniors in Ontario and the provincial government is downplaying the impact of the cut.
Pizey-Allen said the group is concerned about how the cut could affect eligibility for the tax credit and the future of the program itself.
“We are going in the wrong direction if transit becomes more expensive for seniors, many of whom are on fixed incomes and struggle to make ends meet and afford transit as it is,” she said.
TTCRiders has sent a letter to Ontario Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney and Ontario Seniors Minister Raymond Cho with questions about the cut.
‘A honking big SUV’
Social media was abuzz about the cut, with concerns from both young and old. Many pointed out that seniors ride public transit for free in many other parts of the world.
Twitter user Michael Gilmour also pointed out the hypocritical and out of touch nature of Doug Ford. He tweeted: “Doug Ford rides around town in a honking big SUV. What does he even know about what it’s like to have to take the TTC as your only mode of transportation for health care, groceries, etc, living on a meager income and as you’re over 65 and can’t move quickly.”
From bad to worse
In Ontario, regional and municipal governments foot the bill for public transit. By contrast, federal and provincial-level governments across the globe subsidize the operating costs of transit, especially in urban centres. That’s the best way to reduce fares for everyone, and make public transit the best transportation choice in town.
The previous Ontario government could have made affordable transit a priority; it could have at least supported local governments to fund their discounted low-income transit passes. Instead, it created a boutique tax credit for only one of the various population groups that pay too much for transit.
That was way too little. And even that is now under threat.
On the public transit file, Ontario is going from bad to worse.
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