Why a bus pass can change a life

Submitted by Andrew Taylor on March 3, 2014 - 9:44am
Evaluation of Guelph's Affordable Bus Pass Program

Many Canadian communities are developing comprehensive anti-poverty strategies. Increasingly, affordable access to transit is emerging as a key component in these strategies. Access to the bus – especially ongoing, flexible access – can change the life of a person living on a low income.

An affordable bus pass has a number of advantages over programs that offer single bus tickets to people in need.  Many single parents need to drop children off at child care on the way to work or pick up groceries on the way home. A transit pass makes these “chained” trips affordable. It also means that a rider doesn’t have to prioritize their bus trips. He or she can use the bus to attend a medical appointment confident in the knowledge that they will also be able to ride the bus to a parent-teacher interview or drop in on a friend.

In 2011, Guelph City Council approved the Affordable Bus Pass as a two-year pilot project. Guelph’s model uses Stats Can Low Income Cutoffs to determine eligibility. Although some municipalities place a ceiling on the number of affordable passes that can be sold, Guelph chose to make passes available to all qualified applicants. Click here to read more about the program on the City’s website

Early in 2013, the City commissioned Taylor Newberry Consulting to evaluate the pilot phase of the project in order to inform council’s decision about whether to make the service permanent. Ourevaluation report looked at data on pass sales, ridership, and the demographics of users. We also spoke directly with people using the pass, municipal staff and partners.

We found that the pass had been well used. Over two years, almost 2,200 people (or about 17 per cent of all people living below the poverty line in Guelph) have used the pass. We heard from users that the pass had made a real difference in their lives. We also learned a great deal about the challenges that a municipality can face in the process of launching and managing this kind of program. Our report offered suggestions about making the program more accessible and more cost-effective. At the end of the day, we concluded that the success of the Affordable Bus Pass in Guelph really relied on three key factors:

  • the willingness of municipal staff from different departments to work together
  • the ongoing support of key community allies
  • the commitment of the steering committee to ongoing measurement and reporting of progress.

In October of 2013, TNC was very pleased to be present in council chambers when the social services committee forwarded the proposal for ongoing funding of the Affordable Bus Pass to council. On Nov. 25, the program became permanent.

At TNC, we work hard to help our clients translate evaluation findings into action. The Bus Pass story is a great example of this process in action. We were thrilled to have played a part in making sure that the Affordable Bus Pass Program will continue to help people living with low incomes participate more fully in the life of the City of Guelph. 

Learn more:

  • Access full report here
  • For more resources on transportation issues, visit our library here

Andrew Taylor is Principal Consultant for Taylor Newberry Consulting based out of Guelph, ON. This blog was originally published on the company's website here.