Toronto councillors among those who get Metropass perk
Not so for women in shelters in need of affordable transit
By Kris Scheuer
Unlike local politicians who get free yearly Metropasses to get around town, Natoya, who lives in a women’s shelter in the Rosedale area, often has to walk to job interviews and the St. Lawrence Centre where she volunteers.
The shelter she stays at provides meals and snacks and a place to sleep and one TTC token per weekday, which the shelter fundraises to be able to afford to give to all 50 residents.
The 23-year-old is not on welfare but does get $3.75 a day from social services as a personal allowance, which she often has to use to buy a token ($2.50) to return to the shelter.
On a “slow day” Natoya uses the TTC five times per day to go to job interviews, job centres and get to the place she volunteers. “Every day I go out and do some job hunting,” she said. “So my allowance goes to bus fare. On weekends I volunteer but have no tokens (to get there).”
She has been accepted to a broadcast journalism program offered jointly by Seneca College and York University for this September, but at this point is not sure how she’ll get up to the Seneca campus at Keele St. and Steeles Ave.
She’s paid for half her tuition and has permission to pay off the rest throughout the year. She is looking for a job in her career, but will take any administrative job to help pay for school and books.
The TTC gives out almost 19,000 free Metropasses a year.
All sitting city councillors and the mayor are offered a free transit pass. The TTC also dishes out eleven lifetime passes to all TTC commissioners when they retire.
Not everyone uses the pass, but because the pass has a picture of the recipient on it it’s non-transferable.
As local politician Jane Pitfield argues, politicians make a good salary of $100,000 including benefits and can afford to buy their own pass. She declines her free pass mostly because her schedule is so busy that driving is more convenient.
Natoya is stunned that politicians are offered this deal.
“I was pretty shocked to hear about the free Metropass. To a certain degree I understand it as they (politicians) work for the city and have a certain right to have a Metropass. But then you have to look at the fact that there are people who really need it,” she said.
Crystal has been at the same shelter since May 2 (Not her real name because it houses some abused women who don’t want to be found the exact location is being kept vague).
She has over $1,000 a month in expenses to pay for her mom’s housing (with medical assistance), medications and rehab, which leaves nothing for herself. Crystal is not on welfare and has no income, so she pays for her mom’s expenses from credit cards and what is left from her savings.
Her mom has Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and had a series of mini strokes last year. Because her mom didn’t have a will when she had her strokes, the government has declared her incompetent and seized her assets (proceeds from the sale of her home and her car) until it can be determined, which of her children should have power of attorney over the money.
In the meantime bills must be paid and Crystal goes without. She dropped out of school after her third year at University of Toronto because she could not afford tuition and to care for her mom, who needs constant care from a nurse so can’t live with her children.
When Crystal wants to visit her mom at the assisted living home in Brampton it takes two and a half hours one way to travel by TTC, Mississauga transit and Brampton transit. It costs a total of $4.75 one way – money that Crystal doesn’t have.
She lives on the same $3.75 a day and five tokens a week as Natoya.
Crystal plans to finish her fourth year at U of T starting this September. She never used Ontario Student Assistance Program before, but will need it this year if she qualifies.
Sometimes Crystal will walk for miles just save a token for later. She could use a free Metropass or at least a discount on TTC.
“I am shocked and appalled that council members are given lifetime passes. I think people should know about it and be made aware of it. They (free passes) should be passed on to people who could use it and put it to good use,” said Crystal. “I am curious to know how many councillors actually use the TTC.”
According to Vince Rodo, general secretary for the TTC, 40 out of 44 councillors and the mayor have accepted a free pass this year (2005).
Some like councillors like Joe Mihevc use his pass every chance he gets and is often spotted on the TTC. For other councillors the pass just sits in their wallet unused.
(I originally wrote this and it was published in the Town Crier newspaper June 30/05. A few things have changed, so please see comments below this story.)