A ride in the right direction

UPDATE, December 17, 2012 — We’ve got good news! Today, city council unanimously approved a pilot project that will make youth eligible for Calgary Transit’s low-income monthly pass. United Way of Calgary and Area has been working with city council and city administration to make this happen, and we’re thrilled with council’s decision. Based on our estimates, this could benefit up to 17,000 youth living in poverty.

“This will connect low-income youth with more opportunities and brighter futures, making it easier for them to access school, employment and services in our city,” says United Way president and CEO Dr. Lucy Miller.

United Way estimates that this will benefit approximately 740 low-income youth who are already purchasing a monthly youth pass, and we estimate over 1,000 more youth will apply for a low-income monthly pass now that it is available to them. Kudos to city council for ensuring that Calgary is a great city for everyone, including youth!

Last Wednesday was a full house at city hall. United Way’s CEO, Dr. Lucy Miller, 17-year-old Saila, myself and Vincent from the arts-based organization Antyx walked up to the table facing a panel of seven aldermen. Lucy was first to bring them our message:

“Thank you, city council, for expanding the number of people who qualify for a Low Income Transit Pass during last week’s budget meetings. What would take this from good to great is if you allowed youth to purchase a Low Income Transit Pass as well.”

Currently, policy states that anyone under the age of 18 is ineligible for a Low Income Transit Pass. While a Low Income Transit Pass costs $40/month, a Youth Pass costs $57.50/month.

Saila, adrenaline racing and heart pounding, looked over at me. I gave her a nod to start her speech. She had been waiting for this moment for over a year. Saila and a group of youth in her community, calling themselves the Woodridge Youth Action Group (WYAG), have been meeting almost every two weeks to figure out how to make transit more affordable for youth. When I first met this group back in February, I was amazed by these 11 to 17-year-old kids. They are more politically savvy than some adults I know.

“We can’t ask for free transit,” they would say, “that would cause our taxes to skyrocket!”

But they see how some policies make it hard for their families to make ends meet – they live the consequences. They envision a city where youth with money have the same opportunities as youth who don’t. A city where the cost of transit doesn’t threaten their next meal. The Woodridge Youth Action Group’s optimism reinvigorates my passion for social change.

After Saila finished speaking, we showed the video Woodridge Youth Action Group created with support from Antyx:

At least 10 others from the community then came up to show their support. We watched in amazement as grassroots groups talked about their vision for affordable transit. People with severe disabilities talked about the importance of transit for youth. Staff from The Alex explained the downward spiral that occurs when youth are criminalized for riding without paying. The Women’s Centre described the many single moms who struggle to afford transit for their kids.

After an hour of intense debate, the council committee agreed to open eligibility for the low-income transit pass to youth. A collective sigh of relief fell over the audience and we celebrated outside the room. What an incredible display of coming together around a common cause.

But we’re not quite there.

On Monday, December 17, this decision will go before all 14 aldermen and Mayor Nenshi for final approval.

When it comes time for them to vote, we’re hopeful they will imagine the same city that United Way and Saila envision: a city where youth have everything they need to thrive.

—Charla Vall is a senior analyst with United Way of Calgary and Area

Photo of Saila by Vincent T Joachim, Antyx

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