Sunday, March 25, 2007

City OK's free rides for vets - Brampton Guardian

City OK's free rides for vets
Sunday March 25 2007

Local war veterans will soon be getting a free ride on Brampton Transit, but the issue has raised questions about who else should be given the same break.

City councillors have agreed to allow veterans of the Second World War and the Korean War to ride local buses for free, despite a city staff report recommending against the plan.

City staff agreed it would be a gesture of respect and acknowledgement of the sacrifice and commitment to the community and the country the veterans have made.

However, they warned that it would set a precedent for other groups to make their own requests.

"In fact, some of the rationale expressed by Mr. (Ian) Drummond could be applied to all seniors aged 80 years and older in the city," Brampton Transit Director Suzanne Bass wrote in her report to Committee of Council Wednesday.

Local war veteran Drummond had made the request of council on behalf of local veterans, and thanks councillors for approving the free passes.

The paperwork will take some time to complete, he was told, and formal approval is still needed from full council Wednesday, but the majority of councillors were present for the committee vote.

Immediately after the vote, Wards 7 and 8 City Councillor Sandra Hames expressed concern about other groups.

"To me, if we are looking at transit subsidies, we should be looking at more than vets," Hames said.

"There's more that we need to do in the way of transit for lots of people than we do today," she said. "I will support this motion, however, we have a committee of disabled people today that can't ride our transit because they can't access it. They're paying $10 to get where they need to go."

Many members of the city's Accessibility Advisory Committee have to take a cab through Transhelp to get home from city hall after the monthly night meetings, which forces them to wait and leave one at a time, she said.

"If we are going to use the philosophy that some groups need to help more than others, to me, that's wrong. We should be looking at what we can do to help their people that really need it."

Committee Chair Grant Gibson told her to tell the Accessibility Advisory Committee members to bring their request to council.

She said she would.

Wards 7 and 8 Regional Councillor Gael Miles echoed Hames' concern about others in the community.

"We should really be looking at all seniors over 80," she said. "I know there's a cost for it, but if we're going to do it for vets, we should do it for all seniors."

In other communities that offer free rides to veterans-- Guelph, Stratford and Windsor-- a photo identification is used. Brampton currently doesn't have the equipment to produce such a photo identification and would have to spend $2,000 to get it, a cost that was not included in the just-passed 2007 budget.

Transit staff said it is difficult to determine how much revenue would be lost to the system because statistics are not available to show how many veterans or seniors use the bus. However, if there are 200 veterans in Brampton eligible for the free pass, the potential revenue loss could be $108,000 a year, assuming those veterans are currently purchasing a seniors monthly pass.

Using 2001 Census data, the lost revenue would top $2 million to give free rides to all local seniors age 80 and above, according to the staff report.
Veterans don't get the respect they deserve in this country. The wars currently being fought may or may not be justified, but there is no question as to the honor in the sacrifice our World War II and Korean War veterans gave. However, city staff recognized that such a policy could open up the door to other groups, especially seniors groups. I don't normally buy into the "it will leave the door wide open" arguments, but with the baby boomers aging, this is a real possibility. I believe all seniors should get discounted transit fares, but offering free transit to such a large group would result in the money having to come from somewhere else.

Regardless of what happens, the city should bite the bullet on the $2000 and buy the photo machine - or use the ones already installed in every recreation centre in the city.

There was also an editorial in the Guardian with another idea. It splits the difference, but I'm doubtful that the money they propose to use will make a meaningful difference in the price of a transit pass. Either way, its good to see someone is posing alternatives rather than ragging on the situation without contributing anything else.
Another option for veteran riders Another option for veteran riders
Sunday March 25 2007

Allowing local war veterans to ride Brampton Transit for free has wide-ranging ramifications that city councillors may not have thought through before they turned down a city staff recommendation against it.

For example, what about the spouses of veterans? The women who kept the home fires burning, went to work in the factories, and raised the children while their husbands went off to fight? Did they not contribute to the war effort as well and our freedom? If their husbands are given a free ride, they should be given the same courtesy.

How about veterans who fought in other wars? As they age, they will need transit, too.

Some councillors already made mention of how far this idea can be carried. Set the precedent and it will be difficult to argue seniors 80 years and older and the disabled should not be given the same break.

It is a political hot potato, to be sure. How do you say no to war veterans? But there is another way.

Perhaps the Legions might use the money donated by the public in annual poppy sales every year to subsidize the transit needs of veterans. After all, the money is supposed to be used to help and support veterans.

What better use than to set up a fund to pay for transit passes for local veterans? The need is clearly there. Thousands of dollars are collected every year, and every year there is a surplus of dollars, which is then donated, not to the veterans, but back to the community through a gift to the fire department or hospital.

So why not use that money for this? This would ensure the municipality is treating all residents fairly and equally, and money will not be drained from our transit system, which is just starting to come into its own.

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