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TTC offers riders chance to propose a better way

Commuters will have time to decry fare rise, defend poorly performing routes before commission as it tries to mind the budget gap


July 21, 2007

Toronto residents will get their chance to fight for underperforming bus routes jeopardized by a recent city cash crunch, the Toronto Transit Commission decided yesterday.

At public meetings starting next month, Torontonians will be asked for their views on a possible fare rise of up to 25 cents starting this fall, and a possible closing of the Sheppard subway line and 20 or more bus routes.

At an emergency meeting yesterday, called after this week’s vote to delay a decision on a pair of new city taxes worth $350-million in revenue, TTC commissioners mapped out how to cut $30-million in operating costs and another $100-million from the budget next year.

City officials have called on all divisions and agencies, such as the TTC, to put forward stringent cost-cutting measures starting this fall.

In a presentation, TTC chief general manager Gary Webster said the proposed budget cuts could include delaying the extension of the Spadina subway line to Vaughan and the much-heralded Transit City light-rail system.

During the debate, the commissioners voted to defer several million dollars worth of upgrades slated to begin in September to reduce overcrowding.

Also postponed is the Mount Dennis garage, which, with delays in upgrades, would save the city between $4-million and $5-million.

TTC chair Adam Giambrone said that the deferrals will lower the transit agency’s operating costs next year to the tune of $40-million.

Mr. Giambrone said the public consultations would begin as early as next week and will continue until the TTC meets to make further decisions about cost-cutting measures on Sept. 12.

“We will begin consultations immediately on cancelling bus routes across the city {minus} the underperforming routes {minus} and those will affect every community in the city,” Mr. Giambrone said.

“I expect we are going to hear that people don’t want us to do that, but we are getting ready to implement those cuts if necessary,” he said.

Councillor Joe Mihevc called the debate “a difficult day,” and said that while the commissioners could rationalize halting improvements that hadn’t yet been implemented, he was concerned about the decisions they may have to make in the fall.

“We might have to say not only do we have to put the brakes on, but we have to go backward,” Mr. Mihevc said.

Public transit activist Steve Munro said any service cuts would be bad for business.

Mr. Munro also said the TTC had not estimated its service demands well enough when projecting its financial needs for this year, which has exacerbated its position.

“If the TTC had estimated its ridership more aggressively … you wouldn’t be in this ludicrous situation where the TTC hadn’t identified a need for funding,” he said.

“I fully see us being in the same situation next year where they underestimate the demand on them.”

The surprise threat of cuts came just weeks after the TTC and Mayor David Miller scored a major win when Premier Dalton McGuinty promised to deliver $4-billion of the $6-billion cost of the mayor’s Transit City plan if the Liberals win the fall election.

But even in the euphoria of that announcement, Mr. Miller and TTC officials warned that they needed extra funds to operate what the province was promising to build.

And when city council then voted to defer a decision on approving two new taxes recommended by Mr. Miller, the city found itself in an immediate financial deficit, which led to the mayor asking city managers to cut $100-million from its budget.

Five of the nine councillors who sit on the TTC {minus} Suzan Hall, Anthony Perruzza, Peter Milczyn, Bill Saundercook and Michael Thompson {minus} voted in favour of the deferral.