Making transit affordable for job seekers

Op-Ed for The Bulletin by Olivia Chow, 2012-01-26

Being in between jobs is tough. Most of us have been through the experience. Writing cover letters and resumes, going to networking events and interviews – maybe even attending seminars and training. But ten thousands of Torontonians are having a tough time because they are between jobs also in a much more literal sense – geographically.

The GTA is spread out and largely suburbanized. The result: only 15% of our metropolitan area’s jobs are located downtown, a third within a ten-kilometer radius around the centre. Finding an accessible job and then getting to it presents a major challenge for many of the city’s 130,000 unemployed residents. Almost a tenth of the people in the labour pool are currently without a job and the situation is just as bleak as it was a year ago.

If you are looking for work or for a better job, having access to a car or decent transit is essential. Not surprisingly, the neighborhoods with Toronto’s highest incomes have almost four times better transit service than those with the lowest incomes. Areas with poor transit have seen their median household income actually decline over the past 30 years. The lack of proper transit service in parts of our city is aggravated by high fares that unemployed individuals often simply can’t afford.

That’s why I propose to give them a helping hand. Let’s increase the mobility of our jobseekers by offering them TTC passes for half the regular price. And not only here, but across the country. It’s a sensible thing to do. Jobless people will find employment quicker and are more mobile, which potential employers will like. Transit usage will increase. The revenue from this plus the taxes that are paid once a job is found will turn the initial expense for the public into a plus.

This is neither rocket science nor new. Case in point: the city of Berlin has a 60% discount in place on monthly tickets for jobseekers, helping turn what was once an economic backwater into one of the most dynamic places for business in Europe. And it’s only one example. Paris and London both offer over 50% discounts for low-income individuals. Beyond Europe there are cities like Adelaide, Bangkok and Seattle.

Here in Canada, Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, all of Manitoba and British Columbia offer a reduced bus pass program to people on social assistance or for people on disabilities. Across Canada, municipalities are saying to the Federal government, it`s time to get on the bus – establish an affordable transit program to help the 1.4 million unemployed Canadians find a job.