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Convenience trumps lower fares

TTC survey finds better service key to attracting riders

By Joseph Hall and Paul Moloney
Toronto Star Staff Reporters

Increasing cross-border transit ridership in Greater Toronto depends much more on better service than cheaper prices, a new Toronto Transit Commission survey says.

The survey, to be presented at a commission meeting tomorrow, shows that so-called seamless transit, which would offer single fares between Greater Toronto Area systems, is a low priority among potential riders.

Far more important in getting commuters out of their cars and on to buses is increasing the speed, frequency and convenience of the service.

“Essentially what the survey says is that riders care a lot less about price and a lot more about the service being provided,” TTC chairperson Howard Moscoe said.

The Greater Toronto Services Board (GTSB), which has been charged with co-ordinating transit service, has been pushing for seamless transit as an important step in building up the area’s 14 public systems.

But the TTC survey, conducted in November with 1,255 residents of the 905 area, shows that only 7 per cent of current car drivers list price as their reason for shunning public transit.

Some 54 per cent of respondents, on the other hand, listed the car’s greater convenience as their main problem with transit, while 33 per cent said transit took too much time.

Moscoe said a more proper focus for the GTSB should be to support the development of higher densities in the sprawling 905 regions, where massive, single-family-home developments offer too few people to support frequent and reliable transit services.

Meanwhile, a government-appointed panel has concluded that more people will use transit if Ottawa gives them an income-tax break, which would help it achieve commitments to drastically reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

Currently, if an employer supplies a free annual TTC pass worth $972, the employee must pay income tax on that benefit. At a tax rate of 30 per cent, the hit is $291.60.

It’s hoped the break, supported by the TTC, environmentalists and the Toronto Board of Trade, will be announced in next month’s federal budget, said Ken Ogilvie, the panel’s co-chair.

Ogilvie, executive director of Pollution Probe in Toronto, is urging his members to lobby Finance Minister Paul Martin. “We’re calling into question his credibility and his government’s credibility on climate change if they don’t do something as sensible as this,” he said yesterday.

Research done for the panel indicates the break would cost Ottawa and the provinces, who share income-tax revenues, less than $60 million a year.

The TTC is encouraged that Ottawa’s own advisers are telling it the tax break is a good idea, said TTC spokesperson Lynn Hilborn.

“This is an issue we’ve been bringing to the federal government for three or four years,” she said. “Now the pressure’s on them to show in some tangible way how they’re going to deal with emission reductions.”

Ottawa made commitments at the Kyoto summit in Japan to eventually cut greenhouse-gas emissions to lower levels than existed in 1990.

“If they want to get serious about their Kyoto obligations, they must begin to do something,” said Moscoe.

Yesterday, Toronto City Council’s transportation committee shelved a proposal to make transit free on smoggy days, know as Air Quality Advisory Days.

Based on an average of five smog days a year, the TTC would give up $10 million in revenue a year, a staff report said.

Moscoe, a member of the committee, said he couldn’t support hiking fares in order to cover the revenue loss.