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TTC on track for $60 million surplus

by John Lorinc

The TTC is cruising toward an unprecedented $60-million surplus for 2010 thanks to a combination of increased ridership, stronger ad sales, cheaper fuel and the surprising resilience of Toronto commuters in the face of last winter’s controversial fare hikes.

“We’ve had surpluses [in the past], but nothing this big,” said TTC general secretary Vince Rodo.

The results are part of TTC chief general manager Gary Webster’s third-quarter report, to be presented at the commission’s inaugural meeting Wednesday.

What’s less clear, however, is whether Mayor Rob Ford and his budget chair, Mike Del Grande, will now ask the TTC to make do with a smaller subsidy for 2011 in light of the agency’s surprisingly robust performance. Mr. Del Grande couldn’t be reached for comment Monday.

The TTC last year received a $430-million operating subsidy from council, and a further $83-million for Wheel-Trans. “We’re going to be asking for the same subsidy level we asked for in 2010,” TTC spokesperson Brad Ross said.

But new TTC chair Karen Stintz appears to be leaving the door open for a rollback. “The commission will consider the options presented by the surplus at the January meeting,” said a spokesperson for Ms. Stintz.

Mr. Rodo says the TTC’s fare revenues were $41-million ahead of projections for 2010, with a record-setting 480 million riders expected this year or about four per cent more than the agency had estimated. High unemployment and fare hikes, such as the one imposed earlier in the year, generally result in fewer riders. But Mr. Rodo said the TTC benefited because many Torontonians are looking to save money, either by taking transit or purchasing Metropasses.

Increased traffic on bus routes accounted for the bulk of the ridership growth, he added. To meet demand, TTC officials cancelled two rounds of service reductions planned for March and September.

The TTC also saw a $3-million bump in its advertising revenues because of the ridership growth.

On the expense side of the ledger, Mr. Rodo said TTC officials have moved to purchasing diesel on the so-called spot market rather than locking into longer-term futures contracts. Typically, futures contracts allow the TTC to hedge against rising energy prices. But in recent months, the agency has found it more economical to buy short-term supplies.

Special to The Globe and Mail