When the skyrocketing cost of living in the Lower Mainland defeated Franco Caruso’s dream of owning a car, the young Safeway member chose transit instead. His parents decided to live near a SkyTrain station for the same cost-efficient reasons. The savings the Caruso family is able to make through their conscious choices, however, are still not enough. “People can’t afford to pay $5 to $10 every day for just coming and going places,” asserts Caruso. “There are a lot of students and seniors who take transit, so tickets should have a more reasonable cost.” Even when choosing to live frugally, he says, “it’s hard to get ahead.”
Complaints about the high cost of transit in British Columbia are not uncommon. Many municipalities in North America and around the world offer affordability measures to ensure everyone can access the essential service, but BC lags behind. As a result, those who need public transit the most cannot afford it, making things like getting to work, accessing health care or child care, and engaging in leisure activities more difficult—if not impossible.
That’s why UFCW 1518’s Executive Board endorsed All On Board, a campaign to make transit fares more affordable. “Whether you are a millionaire or a minimum wage worker, we pay the same for transit. That is not a fair system,” comments Viveca Ellis, an organizer with All On Board. The grassroots campaign is advocating for an income-based monthly pass and free transit for all children and youth, as well as changes to the current fare evasion system.
“We have talked to people who are just trying to make ends meet. To make it to their day job, they have to jump on the SkyTrain, and then they get ticketed. But how are they supposed to pay a fine if they can’t afford a ticket?” Ellis continues. “For people who are the working poor, transit is an essential service to access work and get out of poverty. We want to make sure all workers can access transit fairly.” All On Board has received endorsements from various municipalities and labour organizations, including Vancouver City Council and the Vancouver and District Labour Council. Milaine Berard, a shop steward at Save- On-Foods in Tillicum, supports the campaign because she understands the need for affordable public transit. “To be able to afford a bus pass to get to work every day is such a basic thing that would relieve stress for a lot of people,” she asserts. “A sliding scale for someone like me who makes minimum wage and has three children would be very beneficial.”
Last March, after months of public consultations, the BC NDP released the province’s first ever Poverty Reduction Strategy, naming affordable public transit as a key action area. With provincial and municipal support, the campaign for a truly public transit system is gathering steam. “Fairness means equal opportunities for all,” asserts President Kim Novak. “Mobility is a basic human right and a more equitable transit system will ensure that everyone, including our society’s most vulnerable, can get to where they need to go. That’s something we are proud to stand behind.”