From 2006-08, I was involved in documenting the last two years of a 10-year resident-initiated process to get the City of Calgary to establish a low-income transit pass. It had been an epic battle. Members of the disabilities community and poverty activists had made appeal after appeal to transit committee members asking for help in moving forward a plan for affordable transportation. It seemed to take forever to get the right partners and funding aligned.
I was fascinated to learn about a similar effort in Ottawa launched in 2014 by the Healthy Transportation Coalition. In one small part of a larger awareness campaign, members of Volunteer Ottawa – one of 49 nonprofit coalition members – taught low-income residents about citizen engagement. Part of that effort involved developing fact sheets about affordable transit options used in other Canadian cities (including Calgary). Volunteer Ottawa used these and other resources to help residents prepare for transit pass information sessions with local media and city counsellors.
At a key meeting in late September 2016, residents and their Volunteer Ottawa mentors sat directly behind media representatives and were able to respond immediately to reporters’ tweets, correcting inaccuracies and offering their time for further interviews, as needed. Two weeks later, the city voted in favour of a low-income pass; details have yet to be announced (and devils often lurk there).
The Ottawa experience undoubtedly was enriched and accelerated by the work of the efforts made in other cities, but social media’s role in shrinking a years-long public awareness process to a matter of months is undeniable and a clear reminder of the medium’s power.
Though some parts of changing city hall have sped up, the fight for an affordable transit pass is a long way from over. You can help by signing the Healthy Transportation Coalition’s petition – sitting currently at about 1600/5000 signatures.