Political decisions have real human consequences.
That was the overall message of a news conference, held at the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba (IRCOM) on Mon. Nov. 27 regarding proposed changes to Winnipeg Transit.
The event featured talks from representatives of community organizations and people with personal experience of poverty and the struggle to maintain a decent life despite constantly rising costs.
Said Ahmed of the Manitoba Association of Newcomers opened the event, noting that the purpose of the meeting was to give “voices to the concerns of low-income families.”
The proposed transit fare increase of 25 cents, coupled with substantial cuts in service, would have a significant impact on the poor and newcomers, who would become increasingly isolated, no longer able to take overnight shift work or be able to participate in many of the activities that help people integrate into the community.
Michael Champagne of Aboriginal Youth Opportunities and Joseph Kornelsen of Functional Transit Winnipeg had a similar message, urging the government to reconsider what they say is a move that would have negative effects on the most vulnerable Manitobans.
Champagne sent a “message to the Brians,” speaking of the need for “adequate and fair social opportunities” for all Manitobans.
Joseph Kornelsen spoke on many of the same themes, noting that parts of the city could become inaccessible to low-income Winnipeggers.
While city funding for transit remained flat between 2003 and 2013, fares continued to increase every year, leaving people with difficult decisions to make, and that situation would only become worse if the changes go through.
Affordable transit fare is about more than just attending concerts or going shopping for people who struggle to pay for the basics.
Several personal stories helped to give a human face to the issue, as an immigrant from Jamaica, a representative of people with disabilities, and others with personal experience of poverty spoke about the dilemma of what to cut from the budget when transit fares increase.
As EIA recipient Emily Wiebe noted, “food always loses” when times are difficult and people need to cut costs in order to continue paying their rent and other necessities.
She wondered why politicians have “so little compassion for the downtrodden” as she talked about the trouble that people have in keeping up with the cost of living.
Nicolette Jones, an immigrant from Jamaica, spoke of the devastating effect that a fare increase could have on newcomers.
Similarly, as a representative of people with disabilities, Carlos Sosa noted that his own family’s success in adapting to Canadian life came about largely through affordable transit, which made participation in the community possible.
Accessible and affordable transit might seem like a small thing to people with their own vehicles.
For people who rely on the bus system, however, the upcoming changes to Winnipeg Transit could mean the difference between success and failure in this city.