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TTC off-hours riders lose free parking

‘Bottom-line issue’ expected to lower ridership numbers

Paul Moloney
City Hall bureau

The TTC is slapping riders with new fees to park at its commuter lots at night and on weekends, even though it will chase customers away. But the transit system figures it will reap more from parking fees than it will lose in fares.

The new fees will generate about $1 million a year, while fare revenue will drop by about $300,000, for a net gain of $700,000.

“The bottom line is money,” chief general manager Rick Ducharme told yesterday’s meeting of the Toronto Transit Commission, which voted 5-4 in favour of the parking fees.

The TTC had let people park free in its lots, which hold 12,300 vehicles, as a way of encouraging transit use. But it can no longer afford to do so, Ducharme said. “Any initiative where we know we’re going to lose riders is not pro-transit. This is a straight bottom-line issue.”

Beginning in January, customers parking after 3 p.m. will pay the daily rate at the TTC’s 23 commuter lots, which ranges from $2 to $6. Next September, a $2 rate will be charged on weekends at all lots.

The new rates don’t affect holders of monthly Metropasses, who will continue to park for free.

The biggest group affected are people going to work. According to surveys, about 42 per cent of people parking at TTC lots after 3 p.m. weekdays are headed to work. On weekends, 35 per cent are travelling to their jobs.

Councillor Brian Ashton, who opposed the move, said transit’s priority should be to reduce car use, thereby relieving gridlock and air pollution.

“To me, it doesn’t make sense,” said Ashton (Ward 36, Scarborough Southwest).

“It’s not what we’re here for. It’s antithetical to the philosophy of Toronto transit.”

Councillor Sherene Shaw (Ward 39, Scarborough-Agincourt) said the TTC should be looking at other means to raise revenues.

“It’s a really bad mistake to knowingly go into a situation and approve a plan to lose ridership,” Shaw said.

Councillors who supported the parking fees said they took no enjoyment from it.

“I’m very reluctant to take any measure that will discourage people from parking and riding the TTC, but I acknowledge the fact that we’ve got financial problems,” said Councillor Howard Moscoe (Ward 15, Eglinton-Lawrence).

The TTC’s chair, Councillor Betty Disero, questioned why people need to drive to the subway in the first place.

“People should be taking public transit from the place where they live without having to drive anywhere,” said Disero (Ward 17, Davenport).

Also yesterday, the TTC kicked off a promotion celebrating the fact it will soon tally 24 billion rides since service began in 1921.

The TTC is holding a contest asking people to submit stories recounting their most memorable transit experience. A selection committee will pick the best 24 stories, and a winner will be drawn who will be given the honour of being the 24th billion rider.

“We will guide him or her through the turnstiles” on the day the milestone is reached, Disero said. That’s expected in early December.

Entry forms will be available in TTC vehicles beginning Oct. 14. The deadline is Nov. 19. The winner gets a first-class trip for two on VIA Rail to a Canadian destination of their choice and a transit pass for a year.

Disero said the promotion is meant to highlight the importance of transit to Toronto, and will be used to pressure provincial and federal governments for more funding.

“We are a player in the development of this city,” she said. “That will be the overall message: how important we are to the city, and we need to be funded.”

The TTC expects to reach 25 billion rides by mid-2005.