Income support clients will get free bus passes in September, province promises after much delay

·1 min read

The provincial government says it still plans to launch a pilot program it promised in the last election to give free bus passes to people on income support.

The program was supposed to roll out within the first six months of Dwight Ball's minority government. After missing that target, it was then supposed to start in April, but was put off because of COVID-19's impact on Metrobus.

Christopher Mitchelmore, minister responsible for the program, says it will now start in September.

"This pilot program is about much more than bus passes," Mitchelmore said in a news release. "It is about affordable access to social, cultural, and economic opportunity."

Approximately 10,000 people in St. John's, Mount Pearl and Paradise will be eligible to avail of the free passes.

Doctors had previously warned the provincial government that its policy for bus passes was causing them problems. The longstanding rule has been that people on income support required eight medical appointments a month to qualify for free passes.

That meant people who needed passes for legitimate medical reasons were scheduling unnecessary appointments just to meet the monthly limit.

Dwight Ball built the promise of free bus passes for all income support clients into his 2019 election campaign.

Liberal campaign officials told CBC News the busing plan would be in place within six months, and would cost an estimated $3.7 million a year.

A release sent on Friday said the province was planning to partner with the City of St. John's and Metrobus, and reduced the cost to $2.1 million this fiscal year and $1.575 million the following year.

The passes will be sent by mail with instructions on how to activate them.

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