Transit Toronto is sponsored by bus tracker and next vehicle arrivals. TransSee features include vehicle tracking by route or fleet number, schedule adherence, off route vehicles and more advanced features. Works on all mobile devices and on any browser.
Supports Toronto area agencies TTC, GO trains, MiWay, YRT, HSR and GRT, as well as NY MTA, LA metro, SF MUNI, Boston MBTA, and (new) Barrie.

Tie bus-fare hikes to tax increase: Staff

City staff want to tie transit fares to tax increases to prevent political battles around the council table.

If approved at today’s budget meeting, it will be the first policy of its kind in Canada, said Don Hull, the city’s director of transit.

The new policy proposes basing transit fee hikes on the city’s mandated tax increase each year. For example, if council decides to increase property tax rates by 2 per cent, transit fares will also go up by 2 per cent. If council doesn’t increase tax rates at all, fares will stay unchanged.

An automatic fare increase means council can avoid the heated and controversial debates that pit fiscally oriented councillors against those more socially oriented during transit deliberations each year. After last year’s discussions, which saw fares rise to $2.55 from $2.40, council asked staff to come up with a new plan to automatically calculate future fare hikes.

“Council observed from experience that it was a very divisive debate,” Hull said.

However, there are some snags in the new policy. Councillor Sam Merulla says he’ll oppose any transit fare hikes today and argues that increases put a strain on Hamilton’s poor.

“I think it’s unnecessary and irresponsible,” he said. “This increase definitely puts them in a situation to turn to Ontario Works instead of returning to work.”

Also, council has yet to set its tax increase guideline this year, meaning that it could approve the new policy without knowing the effect on transit fares in 2011. Also, increasing transit fares by 1 or 2 per cent — the amount of most annual property tax increases — translates into a 2 or 3-cent fare hike. To avoid a $2.57 or $2.58 bus fare, staff are recommending rounding increases up to the nearest nickel.

The new fare increase policy is only one element of today’s transit discussions.

Council will also decide whether to reallocate $3 million in provincial gas tax revenue to help improve service levels. The money is now set aside to cover the cost of buying new buses.

The province and feds dole out gas tax money to municipalities for public transit investments, based on ridership and population levels. However, Hamilton has invested less money into its transit system than any other municipality in the Toronto-Hamilton area and its ridership hasn’t been growing. As a result, Hamilton’s share of the gas tax has gone down from $11.8 million a year to a projected $10.9 million in 2011.

The gas tax is one of the factors that make transit budgets so unpredictable, Hull said. Other factors, like the province-wide move toward rapid transit and skyrocketing gas prices, mean that municipalities have each had to come up with their own plans to handle transit fees.

However, Hull said that the plan he’s presenting today is unique.

“There’s no precedent for it like this anywhere in Canada,” he said. “I’m not aware of anyone in Canada that actually has a policy that determines what their annual increase is going to be.”