Saturday, September 5, 2009

GETTING THERE IS THREE QUARTERS OF THE WAY THERE

In the recent debate about the new Ontario Photo Card Act, it was revealed by the Minister of Transportation that four million Ontarians of driving age do not have a driver's license. To this end, there is a new enhanced Photo Card that non-drivers can obtain for identification and cross-border purposes, as an alternative to a Passport. At least somebody is thinking about this.

Unfortunately, nobody has sought to dig deeper into the problem. There are over thirteen million people living in Ontario, not all of whom are of driving age. If four million of those who are of driving age will not or cannot acquire a driver's license, we need to start asking deeper and more serious questions. The issue of identity is one issue. People that do not drive are deemed by many agencies and businesses to be non-citizens because they cannot produce the proper identification they require. These same businesses somehow feel non-drivers would somehow have a passport, but then again, non-drivers are even less likely to have one of those than any of the other forms of "acceptable identification". People who don't drive don't cross the border that often anyways, if at all. They cannot open bank accounts, pick up registered mail, identify themselves to the tax people over the counter, rent a video, etc. I had to threaten legal action at some of these places in order to access these services in the past ... but I still know some people who can't even get a bank account because they don't have a driver's license.

In Niagara Region, the powers that be have no trouble excluding members of this group, simply by ignoring their needs. They do not only use the same criteria for establishing citizenship, they deny non-drivers access to employment, recreation, access to low-cost shopping, education and other things. We are supposed to just accept that. We are supposed to accept our lot as minimum wage workers, or people who cannot access cost savings on life's necessities such as cheaper housing and discounts on the grocery bill. We are supposed to accept our lot as inferior workers, just because employers in the Niagara Region think we have no skills because we do not drive or do not have access to a car.

There are innovators here. It is not that everybody has their heads in the sand, although in my humble view, the leaders of this region do ... as most of them, like most drivers in this region, take this privilege for granted. They take the act of hopping in their car and going wherever they like in record time for granted, especially at the relative low cost per kilometer for costs. They do not even think about the fact that if they did not have the right to drive or access to their vehicle, they probably would not be holding the jobs that they do. They don't want to think about this, as it is people who don't drive who somehow "deserve" to work in the low-wage, unstable employment sector.

The message that non-drivers are low skilled or no skilled is obvious because even when the innovators act, they develop initiatives that connect more people to low-wage jobs than with middle and higher range levels of employment. The Job Bus that operated in our region until the recent bankruptcy of Opportunities Niagara connected workers in one city to another to low-wage hotel cleaning and dish washing jobs, while at the same time, the Canada Border Services Agency was seeking university educated workers to become Customs Officers at the border. No Job Bus was ever offered to take prospective workers there. Of course, anybody with skills above minimum wage has a driver's license, so we don't bother to worry about sending people to better paid and more stable employment.

The other message that non-drivers receive is that their time is worth nothing or very little when compared to that of drivers. There is some fractional inter-city transit operational within Niagara, but it takes too long to travel this way, and it is way too complicated for the average commuter to use. In order for me to travel a total of 12 km from my house to the Welland courthouse, which is about a 20 minute car ride, I have to: (a) board a city bus which is ten minutes from home (and takes twenty minutes to get downtown); (b) arrive downtown and transfer to the Brock bus (which takes another fifteen minutes to get to Brock); (c) once at Brock, sit around and wait for another twenty minutes until the Welland Transit bus arrives and transfer to it (and travel for another twenty-five to thirty minutes as it meanders across the region); and (d) arrive at Niagara College and wait another ten to fifteen minutes to get the downtown terminal bus to travel another five to ten minutes to the terminal, whereby the court is only a two minute walk. I tried it one time. With all the traveling, transferring and waiting, it took me nearly two hours to arrive to my destination, and I was in certainly no shape to do any work as I was completely exhausted! I can go to Toronto faster. The message to me from the region's fathers was that my time is worth nothing, so my efforts must be worth the same. And then, they wonder why nobody uses this route as a commuter option.

The only other option one has is taxi, which is anywhere from $60 - $70 for a round trip to the same place. Again, my money and time is worth nothing and I am certainly not welcome in some parts of the Region unless I pay to join the "club". I know of no driver that pays $60 - $70 for ONE trip back and forth between a single city within the Niagara Region. If this were the case, there would be a Third World War for sure, and maybe there should be ... as why should I be treated as an inferior entity simply because I do not drive and worse so, because of a disability? The most my colleagues pay to hop in their cars and take that trip to Welland is perhaps five to seven dollars, including parking. How does that make me even nearly competitive, if I actually charged for travel time (which I don't and I am forced to swallow)?

That means my colleagues that do the same work I do can take on almost twice as much work as I can for less cost. It is no small wonder that they have staff of their own, live in nice houses and most will retire with more than nothing.

One such person with an attitude commented on whether or not I should determine whether it would be worth it to remain in business. Okay, maybe that same person can point to me other job opportunities that exist within the Region where one is not required to have a driver's license and a vehicle and pays well enough for me to consider it worth my time and expense going to post-secondary education and other senior work experience I had prior to losing my license. There are many job boards if one wants to find work in Niagara Region. There is the HRDC Job Bank, the Job Gym, various company sites, public service site (although few of those jobs are for people living in Niagara), and the various classified ads. There is also word of mouth, but people who don't drive can't get to the events where word of mouth job information is shared.

Anybody reading this can certainly check this out for themselves. Almost every job that appears available to non-drivers is minimum wage or slightly above it, requires little to no skill at all (so why bother graduating high school if I wanted to work at any of these places) and usually has minimum to no benefits. My husband was given one of those jobs. It lasted exactly three days, not because my husband is a poor worker, but because they were looking for somebody to sell whatever it was they were selling to people that obviously do not want to buy. There are "good jobs" available, but they are usually only for those of upper middle to upper class standing in Niagara Region, as they usually ask for at least five to ten years experience doing the exact same thing elsewhere, or they want you to have a license and a car. Some of these jobs may not specify this, but they say they want you to work all shifts, which means you will be spending half your salary on cab fare to get either to the job or home, or the job is located in another community that you can't get to unless you have a car.

I had interviews for some of the "good jobs" I referred to above, some of them paying close to or even more than I used to make when I did drive. Unfortunately, they did not accommodate people that do not drive, even if the candidate can do everything else on the job. If you try to tell them how you can do the job without having to drive or own a car (and there are many workarounds for this), they just hire the next person that does drive, even if they have less experience or qualifications than you do. One has to live this in order to understand this.

I knew a PHd that spent five years on Ontario Works unable to find a decent job, until he came into some money through an inheritance after his father died. He naturally purchased a vehicle and within two to three weeks, he was employed. I know several other individuals who are professionals, such as teachers, social workers or technicians, that currently sit on Ontario Works or even Ontario Disability Support Program whose disabilities prevent them from driving, but not from working ... and they are punished for being in that position. They cannot earn and save enough money to escape from this area to go elsewhere where their skills would be wanted and appreciated, while at the same time this region does not want them if they cannot get behind the wheel of a vehicle to contribute to the increasing smog problem of the area. I actually count the number of vehicles that pass on busy streets with only the drivers in them, and vehicles of this type comprise over ninety percent of the traffic that is pumping out smog for me to breathe and pay for, while there is considerably more car-pooling, taxi and transit use in other communities I worked in.

My theories were confirmed when I spoke to some key people in Niagara Region, most of whom were employers themselves, or worked in human resources departments. In a non-consequential survey (and completed anonymously over the telephone), I asked the employer respondents if they ever considered a man or a woman for a job in their company that did not drive ... and if this was an issue at the interview, what did that person think was the reason these people did not drive ... For males, it was thought that if they did not drive or own a car, it was believed they likely lost their license as a result of drinking and driving or some related offense. For women in the same position, it was assumed they didn't really have to work and that they had a husband that was a primary earner and they did not really have a lot of skills, and sought basically low-skilled work. When asking if they would consider hiring a non-driver, most of these employers felt that having a driver's license was "necessary" for the job, when in fact a job analysis revealed most jobs could be done without a driver's license.

When I ask others who worked with people with disabilities or those who were unemployed, I learned that in one survey 93% of those who used the generic employment agency in Niagara (Employment Help Centre, September 2008) did not have both a driver's license and a car. Those familiar with people with disabilities know that transportation is a barrier, but unfortunately nobody does anything about it around here, and too many of these workers leave it up to the job seeker to negotiated these accommodations, which nine times out of ten doesn't work.

I can understand not hiring somebody without a driver's license for a job as a cab driver, a delivery person, a limousine chauffeur, a bus driver or even a residential contractor (that must provide their own tools). However, when I speak to people that do not drive, they are not applying for these jobs ... they are applying for jobs in offices, in stores, on computers, etc. that require skills that do not include chauffeuring people or goods to different places. They are still excluded. As far as I am concerned, if a person is working as a support worker, a social worker, employment counselor, therapist, or any other "people job", if somebody needs to be driven somewhere, there are plenty of taxi services available in the community which would cost less than paying a staff person at unionized wages to do this.

While not having access to most jobs is a major problem for non-drivers, governments at all levels at the same time do not mind extracting money from non-drivers for taxes to pay for highway expansions, road repairs, traffic conversions, parking lots, GM bailouts, and the list goes on ... and private retailers don't mind hiking the prices for drivers and non-drivers alike for the privileges only enjoyed by drivers for "free parking" at their premises. In one letter to the editor of the St. Catharines Standard, one of our frustrated taxpayer activists provided some useful information, as follows (Wednesday, September 2, 2009):

City spending and taxes are not 'moderate'

There is no end in sight to increased taxes with approval of the City of St. Catharines 2009 capital budget.

Unfortunately, 2008 financial performance results are still not published and we are almost through 2009 so we must rely on 2007 data that are available from the BMA survey of 87 regions/cities representing 85 per cent of this province's population.

In St. Catharines, the tax levy per $100,000 assessment is $1,615, 26 per cent higher than the survey average of $1,282.

The tax on an average bungalow in St. Catharines is $3,257, 16 per cent higher than the survey average of $2,819.

An average "executive" residence in St. Catharines pays $5,410 in taxes, compared to the survey average of $5,184 -- we are four per cent higher.

Why?

Look at our spending per capita.

We pay $145 for fire services, compared to $113 average. Cost of roads is $8,784 compared to $2,161.

Transit costs are $10; the average is $57.

Cultural enterprises cost $17, $6 more than the average.

Regional police costs $255 compared to $202.

Region roads: $1,407 to the average of $1,127.

Debt charges as a percentage of total expenditures is 6.5 per cent; the survey average is 4.1 per cent.

The average debt per capita is $608 and ours is $691 or 14 per cent higher.

The controller may claim our debt is moderate, but city spending is not and neither are our taxes.

Dave Bedwell St. Catharines

Pay attention to what this gentleman just said: The cost of roads (per capita) is $8,784, compared to the average municipality as $2,161. The regional road cost is $1,407 compared to an average of $1,127. and the cost of transit is $10, when the average is $57. In other words, Niagara cares only about drivers and certainly less about transit users. Their excuse is that "nobody uses transit", but the truth of the matter is if it was offered in a convenient and accessible format, people would ... people don't use transit like the convoluted commuter route I described above because it is too time-consuming, complicated and exhausting. I had a discussion with one woman a couple of weeks ago that didn't want to see "her tax dollars" to to get "five people back and forth to Welland". I just said none of those five people want to continue to subsidize her access to the roads either. It might well be nigh to see more non-drivers speak up and force the issue into the courts perhaps, as to why we are paying all this money to prop up people that drive, while people that drive pay little or nothing towards those of us that need another way to get around. Maybe malls should stop subsidizing drivers as well by making me and other non-drivers pay more for our grocery and other consumer items we buy there. It might well be nigh that non-drivers stop shopping at these stores in droves until they lower their prices and start making drivers pay for their own damn parking!

Niagara can also be considered an ableist and ageist society, as it is generally disabled and very young adults or older adults that are the least likely to drive. I read one study one time that estimate approximately 50% of people with disabilities did not drive. Older people tend to give up on their licenses as they begin to lose their reflexes or visual acuity, but do they have less rights to access visits to family, recreational and shopping facilities than those that do drive? Do they have to be now put in nursing homes because they can no longer get around and do these things for themselves cost-effectively? Try to tell THEM that and see what they say. How about people with disabilities? Almost all of them want to live independently. They do not want some damned charity to send volunteers to pick them up and drop them off places. They want to find and catch a bus to go wherever they want within reason and within a reasonable period of time and as few transfers as possible.

How about if somebody passed a law and said that drivers will only have access to the road between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. but only on a half hourly basis and after six, on an hourly basis only? If you have to go somewhere in between, you have to wait until the roads re-open an hour later. What if drivers were told they were not allowed to go to certain communities because there were no usable roads in and out? They would be stamping their feet, throwing a fit and complaining about how much taxes they pay and why can't THEY get the service they pay for? How about non-drivers who pay the SAME taxes, but are getting LITTLE to NO service for what they pay?

I personally don't think transit options will improve until somebody important in Niagara loses their license due to disability or medical reasons and then finds themselves unable to do their job because of lack of transportation. I don't wish ill on people, but sometimes it might take personal experience with this form of discrimination before anything changes here and people start to realize they need to stop propping up General Motors and other aspects of the auto industry and just start to consider various ways of getting around so everybody can access the community and all the jobs it supposedly has to offer. Until then, this current recession will NEVER end for people with disabilities and for others that don't drive either for medical or financial reasons.

Your thoughts?

2 comments:

CK said...

Wow! I had no idea how bad the employment prospects in Ontario were for those who don't drive. YEEESSHH! You just provided another arguement in my favour to not moving to Ontario (my b/f wants to leave Quebec; I don't; I love Montreal too much!). Here in Montreal (with a few exceptions of course) drivers' licenses & car ownership are not deal breakers when looking for work; And thank God, as I have a neurological condition that prevents me from ever driving.

Freecyclist said...

Wow! They get to pollute my lungs and I pay extra taxes for the privilege!