Changes to bus pass cash for Ontario Works recipients will increase instability, advocates warn

Changes to how transportation cash is doled out will affect almost 5,000 Londoners

A significant change to how almost 5,000 Londoners get money for transportation is coming in the New Year, and advocates for people already struggling to survive say the new model will create uncertainty and deepen poverty. 

Until now, about 40 per cent of London’s Ontario Works recipients were given $95 per month to cover a bus pass for the purpose of job searching. The money was attached to the monthly cheque people get.

As of Jan. 1, 2024, that money will no longer be available because the province has changed how it funds employment services. Under the new model, transportation cash will still be provided for “stability” activities such as school, volunteering and health supports, but will be given out by Ontario Works case workers on an as-needed basis to clients. 

“Transportation is not just about getting somewhere. It’s about social integration,” said Paul Hubert, a former city councillor who runs Pathways Employment Services, which runs training programs and connects job seekers with employers. 

“A single mom now can’t take her kids to the doctor or the grocery store. Forget the food bank — how are you going to get there?” 

The change will affect the 4,564 Londoners who qualified for the bus money every month, just under half of the city’s 11,300 Ontario Works recipients. They come as London Transit fares are also increasing in the New Year, including a monthly pass for low-income earners that will jump from $61 to $72. 

The Ontario Works change means that instead of getting $95 for their monthly transportation needs, each client will get a different amount of money, to be worked out with the case worker. “Someone attending school part-time may receive money to purchase bus tickets for the number of days they are in school. Someone attending school full-time may receive money to purchase a ‘Weekday – Monday to Friday’ bus pass,” said Shirley Glover, who oversees Ontario Works for the city, which administers the province-run program. 

In 2023, the city spent $5.2 million on the transportation program, she said. The province is in the midst of transitioning employment services out of Ontario Works and into Employment Ontario. That and other changes mean a 22 per cent reduction in the city’s Ontario Works (life stabilization) budget starting in January 2024, Glover said. 

‘Layer of instability’

The city has made the bus pass change to try to “meet the unique transportation needs of clients and their activities, as well as maximize the funding available,” she added. 

But it will mean more instability for those who need extra cash the most, said Jessica Justrabo, who works with Goodwill Industries. “Instead of starting with dignity, you have to prove that you are worthy of support,” she said. “It’s another layer of instability because you have to jump through hoops just to get a mode of transportation.” 

Removing that support will make it more difficult to connect with clients, said Deb Armstrong, who runs Nokee Kwe, an Indigenous-led employment agency in London. 

“There’s going to be an even heavier reliance on agencies. This will erode people’s ability to choose,” Armstrong said. “It will mean increased vulnerability and it will contribute to a cycle of poverty.” 

The inability to get to medical appointments or to parent-teacher meetings has an impact that will show up in other areas, she added. “The potential social issues, physical and mental health issues, stress, anxiety — it goes into all those thing that go along with poverty. Desperate people tend to do desperate things and there’s going to be an additional cost on all support systems.” 

In a statement to CBC News, the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services said it has not changed its funding or directives for transportation for Ontario Works or the Ontario Disability Support Program.