Every year we go through a charade about who really is responsible for a fare increase, assuming we have one. In the bad old days of Mayor Mel Lastman, the TTC and Chair Howard Moscoe made a big point of forcing this debate onto the floor at Council. If Council was going to limit or cut TTC funding, then Council should make the decision.
Something strange has happened: now the TTC is raising fares because those baddies on the Budget Advisory Committee won’t relent. In years past, this would be laid at the feet of the mayor, but, oh dear, we have a different mayor, one we shouldn’t try to embarrass too much. I’ll take Mayor David Miller over Mel Lastman any day, but he has to stop hiding in his office and say publicly where he stands on transit.
Transit and the Ridership Growth Strategy are key parts of the City’s budget (RGS is listed as one of the “strategic” points this year), and the Official Plan’s scheme for accommodating a growing population hinges on much more and better transit. If David Miller doesn’t want to pay for it, he should say so.
This may be fobbed off as a one-year setback, a situation forced on us by the half-billion-dollar hole in the City budget. Funny thing, those one-year setbacks, they keep coming back year after year, and programs that were just within reach fall away to the indefinite future. Political fortunes change, an anti-transit regime gains control, and the reduced transit system becomes the new base from which even more cuts are demanded.
We have been here before.
For comic relief, into the fray comes Councillor Pitfield, would-be mayor, huffing and puffing that the TTC should not raise fares and that the money should be found somewhere else within their own budget – maybe in HR (there’s always room to trim a few staff here and there), maybe in tougher negotiations on fuel costs.
If she were paying attention, she would know that an extraordinary jump in TTC costs was coming this year when the old fixed-price contract for diesel fuel runs out. That’s worth $27-million, more than the 2% target City Council set for all of its agencies’ budget increases.
The TTC will be running more service this year, and that pushes up costs. They have a negotiated increase in pay for their staff. They have the creeping impact of low-floor vehicles which hold fewer passengers and drive up the costs of running heavy routes. They have a provincially-mandated increase in health-care benefits.
None of this is a secret to anyone on Council or to anyone who follows TTC affairs. All the same, we’ve been through the same routine of budget hawks chasing transit doves while the real decision, the final balancing act, will occur at Council.
Where, you ask, do I stand on all of this?
The amount of money involved is small change in both the TTC and City budgets. I don’t agree with a fare increase, but I would fight even harder against service cuts as an alternative. We know that service cuts have roughly five times the impact of modest fare increases on the attractiveness of a transit system.
Next, the City needs to make a real, long-term commitment to funding transit and to improving the quality of service. If you don’t have service, you don’t have a transit system. This needs detailed planning, a commitment to a bigger fleet (and more staff, pace Councillor Pitfield), and a guarantee to TTC staff that the money will be there to actually operate additional service when the new buses and streetcars arrive.
Finally, the TTC itself has to stop whining about its inability to run good service. The new mantra goes like this:
Traffic congestion is the entire problem, and until we get reserved lanes everywhere, we can’t run good service.
That is utter crap.
It’s the classic TTC approach of excusing poor performance by blaming external factors. Very few TTC routes have now, or are likely to have in the near future, enough service to justify a reserved lane even if we could get that politically through neighbourhoods and Council. Streetcars and buses are going to run in mixed traffic for a very long time on most routes, and it’s time to start running a lot more of them.
The TTC claims that this would waste vehicles, but fails to explain how, with all this congestion, they give streetcars no more time to make their trips today than they did in 1990. Some of the suburban bus routes have longer times, but they are hardly the black hole that TTC makes out.
The real problem on any route is on loading delays, and this is worst on overcrowded routes where passengers must push and shove to get on and off the vehicles. There are ways to speed up loading, but they all involve running good service, having a fully accessible fleet, self-service fare-collection and, possibly, less frequent stops. None of this happens overnight.
If you have a lot of passengers, you are going to spend a lot of time at stops. Passengers are an annoying side-effect of having a transit system, but they’re what transit is all about. There will be more of us. Get used to it, and run better service.