Maple Ridge residents 'personally hurt' by bus pass rate increase

Brenda Iley was at Maple Ridge
Brenda Iley was at Maple Ridge's bus loop Thursday, in protest of the increase to bus pass rates for those with disabilities, effective Sept. 1.
— image credit: Ashley Wadhwani/The TIMES

Maple Ridge's Brenda Iley "couldn't help but take it personally," when the Province announced it would replace an almost-free annual bus pass with a new system that deducts $52 or more from monthly assistance cheques.

The changes are part of what government had billed in last month's provincial budget as an “up to $77 per month rate increase” for the more than 10,000 people receiving disability assistance. The new monthly assistance rate of up to $983 is the first increase to disability assistance in nine years.

However, those wishing to purchase a bus pass will only see a $25 monthly increase.

Come Sept.1,  the Ministry of Social Development will begin deducting $52 a month for a transit pass from disability cheques. This new rate will add up to $624 per year compared to the current annual administration fee of $45 for bus pass holders.

Iley was one of the 10 community members holding signs reading "Christy Bully," at Maple Ridge's bus loop Thursday, alongside New Democrat social development spokesperson Michelle Mungall.

Mungall visited Surrey and Coquitlam before visiting Maple Ridge – three cities she said many people living with disabilities move to for its affordability.

"Here in Maple Ridge, I've gotten a lot of letters and emails saying this is going to effect them directly," Mongull said.

"It's a step backwards," Mungall added. "They've systematically forced a choice onto people with disabilities living in poverty."

The spokeperson said the choice is between being apart of their community, being social, and getting to work, or stay at home and be able to afford groceries.

Come September, Iley said that despite the pain from her fibromyalgia, she will have to give up her bus pass to afford groceries, a decision that will effect her two sons who have disabilities, as well.

"I use the bus to go to the doctors," she told The TIMES. "Now it looks like in our family of three, two out of three of us will give up the pass to bring more food money into the house."

She added that she also uses the bus for every day use, like going to the beach or park, and fears that without the ability to get outdoors and events in her community, her depression will be effected.

"It's pretty hard living in the same four walls and not ever getting out," she said. "It's very hard on my depression, my sons depression. This sort of thing has made one of my children talk about wishing he wasn't alive anymore cause we see no hope... with these claw backs I don't see any hope either."

Mungall added that even if community members decide to keep the $77, "it's not going to cut it," with the increasing costs of living.

"We're talking about basic necessities," Mungall said. "Cause that's the level of poverty that these people are living in."

During Thursday's visit, Mungall also asked for signatures from community members for a petition opposing the new rates.

An online petition created in February by BC Inclusion asking government to increase disability benefits and keep the current bus pass rate has so far gained more than 15,000 signatures.

With files from the Vancouver Sun

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