Alberta government cuts funding for Edmonton, Calgary low-income transit pass, mayors say

Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said the Low Income Transit Pass program is accessed each month by more than 25,000 Edmontonians. (Codie McLachlan/CBC - image credit)
Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said the Low Income Transit Pass program is accessed each month by more than 25,000 Edmontonians. (Codie McLachlan/CBC - image credit)

The Alberta government is cutting funding for transit programs in Edmonton and Calgary that subsidize fares for low-income residents, according to the mayors of the province's two largest cities.

Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi posted on X, formerly Twitter, that he was informed Tuesday the province would discontinue its portion of funding for the Low Income Transit Pass program.

"The decision to defund this program in Edmonton and Calgary shows that the province's priorities are in the wrong place," he said.

Sohi said the program is accessed each month by over 25,000 Edmontonians. He noted it had originally been set up as a three-year pilot in 2017.

A response from a spokesperson for Jason Nixon, minister for seniors, community and social services, did not directly address whether funding for the program had been discontinued.

"Alberta's government is investing $5 million to support transportation programs for low-income Albertans in rural communities where transportation options are limited," Nixon's press secretary, Alexandru Cioban, said in an emailed statement.

"Alberta's government also provides over $3.5 million to low-income Albertans on social benefits to support them getting transportation across the province, including in Edmonton and Calgary."

Cioban also highlighted funding for LRT projects and core services.

Calgary mayor appalled

Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said in a statement that she was appalled by the decision.

"Rather than spend $6.2 million to help low-income Calgarians and seniors get around now, this provincial government would rather spend more time dreaming about private-public partnerships for trains decades from now," she said, referring to Monday's announcement of a $9-million feasibility study on passenger rail in the province.

An Edmonton Transit Service adult monthly pass is currently $100.

The program offers reduced-cost tiers — at either $35 or $50 — depending on several criteria, including household income, number of family members or enrolment in certain benefit programs like AISH.

A single person would have to make $33,579 or less annually to qualify for the lower-tier pass.

Lorne Dach, NDP transportation critic, called the province's decision "extremely cruel" in a news release.

"Municipalities are already grappling with insufficient funding from the province, and now the UCP is downloading further responsibility onto them by callously ripping funding away from services that assist low-income Albertans to access transit."

in September, Nixon announced a $1.7 investment into expanding low-income transit programs in Camrose, Hinton, Leduc, Lethbridge, Red Deer and Spruce Grove.

A news release from that announcement cited a price tag of $6 million each for Calgary and Edmonton to operate their programs.

City councillors question strategy

Coun. Ashley Salvador, who represents Ward Métis in Edmonton, said in an interview Tuesday she didn't know why this was happening now.

"I think the last few weeks, we've really seen a ramping up of actions from the provincial government that are harming cities."

Salvador said she sees such a cut as a continuation of downloading onto municipalities, with the city having to pick up the tab. Last week, city council approved an 8.9 per cent property tax increase for 2024.

She said many Edmontonians rely on the passes, including newcomers, seniors and students.

Coun. Aaron Paquette said the province discontinuing the funding would hurt the city's most vulnerable at a time when they need the most help. The program sold 250,000 passes in 2023 — a 20 per cent increase from 2019, Paquette said.

"Because since 2019, people have found it harder and harder to make ends meet. And instead of assisting people with that, this government is making it even more difficult to make ends meet," he said.

Paquette questions the strategy behind the province's actions but said cuts ultimately punish residents.

"This government is running a surplus on the backs of the least fortunate."