A Vancouver city councillor is backing the notion of a regional transit plan for homeless people, saying a new fare system now coming into effect could make it more difficult for homeless people to take transit to get to shelters, medical appointments or other destinations.
Vision councillor Geoff Meggs will introduce a motion next week to Vancouver city council that calls for the city, the province and social service agencies to develop a regional plan "that makes the [transit] system accessible to homeless people while minimizing costs to TransLink."
TransLink runs the regional transit system, including buses, SkyTrain and the West Coast Express. After several years of planning, TransLink is rolling out an electronic fare system known as Compass. It is expected to be implemented fully later this year.
The motion also calls for the city to urge other Metro Vancouver municipalities to back a regional homeless action plan.
Mr. Meggs said the motion was spurred by recent discussions with representatives of social service groups who are concerned that fare gates and the Compass card – a reloadable electronic fare card designed to work throughout Metro Vancouver – will make transit less accessible for the homeless.
TransLink bus drivers are currently not required to demand a fare from passengers, and some people simply ask for and receive a ride.
"They are quite concerned about what happens after the Compass card comes in," Mr. Meggs said. "And how they will be able to provide targeted support for people to get to a shelter, a particular appointment or so on?"
The province – through B.C. Housing – makes a limited number of transit tickets available to non-profit groups for their clients, Mr. Meggs said. He was not able to say how many tickets are provided each year or how much it might cost to come up with a plan to offset transit costs for homeless people.
TransLink has been receptive to the notion of a regional homeless action plan, but no details or strategies have been developed, Mr. Meggs said. That is why he would like to see a task force on the issue, with representation from social service groups and provincial ministries responsible for health, housing and public transit.
Rich Coleman, minister responsible for B.C. Housing, was not immediately available for comment.
With the Compass system not yet fully in effect, it is hard to say how it will affect homeless people who use buses or other forms of transit. But service providers who work with them are concerned that the system will be less accessible, saying they are not given enough tickets to meet the need and that it might become more difficult for drivers to use their discretion and allow passengers to board without paying.
"On the SkyTrain, with fare gate and so on, it will be much more difficult to get on without a ticket or some [official] explanation," Mr. Meggs said. "It's going to be a lot harder to travel without paying ... and they [social service agencies] need to be on top of that."
TransLink is in a budget crunch, lacking money for new projects, and is facing a referendum on transit funding next year.