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TTC seeks yet another fare hike

Wants to reduce expenses (otherwise known as cutting services)

Don Wanagas, City Hall columnist
National Post

Tuesday, October 22, 2002

Big fans of political fireworks might want to drop by Committee Room 2 at City Hall for tomorrow’s meeting of the Toronto Transit Commission.

Prominent on the commission’s agenda will be a recommendation from TTC staff for another 10 cent hike in the transit fare on Jan. 1. Management also wants to reduce expenses (otherwise known as cutting services), procure an increase in government operating subsidies and somehow get the province to fund the Sheppard subway line until it has enough paying customers to break even.

But it’s the fare hike — the second since June 1 of last year — that’s going to stick in many craws. “I’m not going to support raising fares and cutting service until [Mayor] Mel Lastman stands up and says he’s failed to get provincial and federal support to allow the TTC to survive,” Councillor Brian Ashton said yesterday. “This really starts to run you into a ditch. Declining service levels, increasing fares. People get into their new car and wave goodbye. It’s as simple as that.”

As you may recall, the Mayor orchestrated Mr. Ashton’s ouster as TTC chairman this past spring so one of his most dependable sycophants — Councillor Betty Disero — could assume the position. And Ms. Disero was busy living up to Mr. Lastman’s expectations yesterday when she applauded transit management’s recommendations as steps in the right direction.

“Staff have come up with a reasonable balance,” the TTC chairwoman declared. “With provincial assistance, we can keep the Metropass under $100-a-month with no change in the cash fare and only a 10 cent increase in adult tickets instead of 15 cents.”

Budget chief David Shiner — another councillor installed on the expanded TTC to ensure mayoral dictates are followed — was also supportive of a staff proposal heavily dependent on considerable financial support from the Ontario government.

“The city is facing a $250-million budget shortfall next year and we can no longer afford to subsidize the TTC alone,” Mr. Shiner said in the same news release that featured the aforementioned pearls of wisdom from the TTC chairwoman.

“Hopefully, Premier [Ernie] Eves will recognize the need for affordable public transit and return the province to their historic level of funding 50% of the transit operating subsidy,” he said. Hopefully.

Now, either the budget chief has heard encouraging words coming out of Queen’s Park or he’s got a big hookah pipe going in his office.

“This is an Alice In Wonderland budget,” Mr. Ashton claimed. “They’re hoping the province puts in $8-million [to subsidize the Sheppard line], they’re wishing the city comes up with more subsidy and still they have to increase fares and cut services.”

Under the proposed fare structure, the cost of 10 adult tickets will rise from $18 to $19 and the price of a monthly Metropass will increase from $93.50 to $98.75. Seniors and students will have to pay $12.50 for 10 tickets (they’re $12 now) and the cost of their Metropasses will rise from $80 to $83.25. The cost of 10 children’s tickets will go up to $4.25 from $4.

According to the staff report that will be discussed by the TTC tomorrow, a 10 cent hike in the adult fare will raise $21-million of the TTC’s estimated $78-million budget shortfall next year. But it will also cost the transit system up to five million riders.

TTC brass considers the lost ridership “reasonable.” But Mr. Ashton looks at the city’s new transit-based official plan with its predictions of up to one million more people living here 30 years from now and wonders where the decline will end. “Toronto is at a watershed,” he said. “You either commit yourself to transit in a meaningful way with partners at the senior levels of government or you recognize that transit is not going to meet your expectations.

“So take your official plan and a million more people and stuff like that and throw it out the window because you’re not going to be able to move them around this city.”

Mr. Ashton maintained it is imperative that city council have a comprehensive debate about the TTC’s long-term future.

“If we go back to the 1990s when you watched the system fall into disrepair, you watched service being cut, you watched fares going up and then you turn around and say we’re a transit-friendly city…. I don’t think so. We’ve got to come to a conclusion about what we’re going to do for transit. If you’re going to build a modern day city, you’d better start making some hard decisions, financially, about Toronto transit.”

Such decisions would be relatively simple if the province returned to its pre-amalgamation policy of paying half the TTC’s annual operating subsidy. That tab came to $152-million this year while the remainder of the $918-million necessary to run the transit system came out of the fare box.

According to Mr. Ashton, “the question now is whether the province has the political will to support transit, whether it has the money and whether it will do it for Lastman.”

The Mayor has spent much time screaming and hollering about the raw deal Toronto is getting from Queen’s Park on numerous fiscal fronts. But Mr. Lastman’s antics are widely seen as a major obstacle to resolving the situation.

“A lot of people in political circles say [the Tories] will wait until he’s gone before they enter into serious, meaningful discussions,” the former transit chairman said.

Surely this is a matter that may be worth some debate at tomorrow’s TTC meeting.