Does the Transit Commission Believe in Transit?

Much air time and print space have been devoted to Wednesday’s TTC meeting (September 12).  Which routes will be on the chopping block?  What will happen to fares?  Does anyone except the riding public actually care, or are the politicians and press too busy scoring political points off of each other?

The Transit Commission has a difficult decision, but hardest one will be this:  resist calls for cuts now.

Shirking responsibility?  Nonsense.  The Transit Commissioners should be advocates for transit, not hatchet men for those who prefer to starve a vital service.  The Commission’s job is to avert the destruction of the system.

In July, Council foolishly deferred implementation of new taxes in the vain hope that Queen’s Park would rescue Toronto if only from embarrassment.  A quick browse of election literature doesn’t reveal many red faces, and any help is years away.

Even “transit’s friend” the NDP promises a two year fare freeze but is silent on how much it would contribute to new service.  50 percent, but 50 percent of what?  Cheap fares are worthless if you can’t get on the service or it doesn’t run when you need it.

After years battling back from the cuts of the 90s, we are on the verge of real improvement with the Ridership Growth Strategy.  It’s far from perfect, but it’s the first attempt in decades to actually attract riders with better service.  This must not disappear into an interminable round of deferrals.

The Commission has no mandate to implement cuts on Wednesday.  They do have a resppnsibility to lay out for Council the options and what will happen if new revenue is not provided.  No action that would cut service should be approved until Council’s decision on new revenues — be they taxes or otherwise — is final.

The TTC should:

Approve in principle three scenarios for Council:

  1. The original plans for expanded service in 2008 adjusted for a late startup (January is impossible but April should be easy to manage).
  2. A “no change” option preserving the existing level of service.
  3. A “cuts” option.

Any decision on new fares should also wait for Council’s action.  Budgets for the three service options should clearly show how much subsidy is needed for each, and fare increases then become one way to deal with the need for added revenue.

Immediately after the Council session in October, the TTC should formally approve whatever service and fare option is viable under the circumstances.  Initiating cuts today prejudges Council and sets us on an anti-transit path.

Council created this mess by refusing to deal with the tax proposals and Council is where the decision on TTC impacts must occur.  If the Transit Commissioners really believes in transit serice, not in grandstanding to embarrass the mayor and the premier, then they will be advocates for the best service we can have and will not approve any service cuts until the last possible moment.

The options must be on the table, clear for everyone to see and for Councillors to choose.   Transit Commissioners have a duty to argue the best possible case for the TTC, and if there will be cuts, then everyone on Council must have a hand in voting for them.

10 thoughts on “Does the Transit Commission Believe in Transit?

  1. Right on, Steve!
    I understand that you will be attending the upcoming TTC meeting…will you be presenting these recommendations in the form of a submission?
    I’m sure you will have plenty of support from the TTC rider community and those of us who support the Ridership Growth Strategy.

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  2. “Does anyone except the riding public actually care, or are the politicians and press too busy scoring political points off of each other?”

    Unfortunately, this seems to be the case. I had a discussion with friends involving this subject, out of the four of us there, only one actively relies on the TTC (she doesn’t own a car and doesn’t intend to get one, she rides the 78 St. Andrews route which is one of the routes apparently on the cutting board). One of us (not me) countered by telling her to get one as he believes that the TTC will be cut down and unless she wants to be “stranded” she should get away from dependance on the TTC.

    Now while I am not truly affected by the cuts as I cannot efficiently use the TTC to where I am going (I do take the TTC downtown when the opportunity presents itself), I will say that unless the TTC can stop itself from being a partisan patsy used by City Council, I will not lose sleep over this. I have said from the outset that this mess smacks of extortion from the Millerites as a punishment for the tax deferrals (good job, Mr. Minnan-Wong, Mr. Ford, Ms. Nunziata, and co. While I do not agree that council created this mess by deferring Miller’s Tax proposals (of which I am completely against, especially when at some point I was pondering a move to the Great city), I do agree that the TTC commissioners should try to make a stand and not implement any cuts. It is indeed the best solution, and if any should convince Toronto council to look elsewhere for cuts. While a $500 million shortfall is indeed steep, there should be other ways for council to raise that cash without having to put in costly tax increases or cuts to major services.

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  3. Stephen:

    You say there “should be other ways to raise [the $500M shortfall cash] without having to put in costly tax increases or cuts to major services.” What ways, specifically, do you mean? It seems to me, anyway, that if you have a deficit you either have to increase revenues (taxes) or cut expenses (services). However if there’s another way to find $500M (!) let’s hear about it!

    [For clarity, the “Stephen” above is the author of a previous comment.]

    Steve: There is a huge problem with ongoing critiques of city spending that assume there are vast “efficiencies” to be found by program and staff cuts and by outsourcing. There are several problems with this premise:

    Some (see recent poll in the Sun) advocate cutting cultural grants. People think of “elite” organizations like the symphony, opera and ballet, but ignore the huge number of smaller groups that are also funded by the city, not to mention organizations like the film festival that really put Toronto on the map. How many community celebrations should we cancel?

    Whose “culture” matters? Why is cutting “cultural” grants acceptable, but closing community centres is not?

    Will we finally stop spending city money on professional sports? Will we finally stop the endless attempts to get the Olympics or a World’s Fair? When the next carpet bagger shows up at City Hall with a grand scheme, will we send him packing?

    Any cut we make is a one-time saving, and problems with revenue and cost pressures will be back next year. What do we cut then?

    This is not to say we should ignore true inefficiencies and waste, but Toronto’s budget team has had years to address that sort of issue. If there is half a billion sitting there for the taking, where are the details? The TTC at least has produced a list of proposed service cuts. Where are the specific proposals from the right wing? Will they actually vote to make real cuts, or would they prefer to make a lot of noise to prop up John Tory’s campaign in Toronto?

    Toronto boxed itself in years ago with Mel Lastman’s foolish tax freeze, a policy near and dear to the right wing including the business community, and David Miller continued the folly by restraining tax growth to a modest level. Municipalities around the 905 have raised taxes well above the rate of inflation to pay for the services they provide. Somehow, in those bastions of conservative thought, tax increases do not cause riots in the streets, and politicians sit happily in office for decades.

    Queen’s Park needs to play its role by uploading services, but we can see clearly this won’t happen soon regardless of who wins the October election. Toronto needs to stop fighting political battles with municipal services taking “collateral damage”.

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  4. We can cut grants to so-called cultural groups because if they were truly cultural the culture would support them and they wouldn’t need grants. However, I agree that that issue is largely irrelevant and that the real problem is the current neo-con/neo-liberal conception of the role of government as solely to keeping taxes down.

    As the city crumbles around us you’d think Torontonians would wise up to the flaws in that idea. But then they would have to pay attention to what’s going on around them, and they seem to have bought another popular idea these days (peddled by dear Dr. Phil, among others) that the part of the world which does not consist of oneself is primarily an obstacle to achieving one’s potential. Ergo, the problem lies not with oneself but with someone else — say, what about wasteful City Hall, eh? that’s the ticket — and not with our reluctance to pay for things we want.

    Steve: There is a myth that “culture” is something undeserving of support from our taxes. Through it, in many ways, a city, a people express who they are. We support events as well as ongoing services that enrich the city, and don’t depend on Rosedale supporters to finance them. A huge irony with privately funded culture is that it’s tax deductible, and without that, much private funding would evaporate.

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  5. We’d live in a pretty boring place if we didn’t have the vast selection of “cultural” events that the city helps foster. Those same events attract people to the city from elsewhere, which in turn offers an opportunity to attract investment. You can almost think of them as a form of advertising.

    The city (unlike the provincial Liberal party) has a well regulated system of grants for culture. Culture is one area where the fabled PPP is appropriate and works.

    Eliminating cultural grants won’t get us anywhere near the supposed shortfall in revenue.

    I did see a recent article that indicated that the police budget which isn’t under scrutiny has grown disproportionately to all other city expenditures. The police budget exceeds even John Tory’s proposed increases from his mayoral campaign. Yet according to Statistics Canada Toronto’s crime rate is actually down?

    Strange, why is no one looking there?

    I agree Steve, the TTC commissioners need to be pro-TTC and force the council to decide what if any cuts to make. Make each member of City Council responsible to his or her constituents for each and every cut in service, be it a closed community center, library or a change in transit service.

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  6. Steve, when you bash conseratives in this regard, I hope you’re bashing the old buggers who are afraid of forward thinking. I am a proud conserative to a point, but the young conseratives are very angry (myself included) with budget cuts, the ttc being slashed, and everything in between.

    Sure there is fat that needs to be trimmed in some areas but you can’t carve fat from cartilege. (Meaning the TTC of course.) You need basic city services that are well funded, but how come the TTC isn’t declared a basic city service? Well the simple fact they never used a bus ticket in their lives.

    And look at where many of these conseratives come from — rural areas where public transit is not required. (Or so they believe.)

    Mel Lastman was a tool. Tax fairness? Please, the bottom dollar is we should have the highest residential tax rates in Ontario. Look at Oshawa — it’s the fecal matter of the 905 in my view, and they have double the tax rates then we do in terms of resdiential. We need to be sitting at 1.2% in the tax rate. Then we can build Transit City ourselves, have many more services, and have 10 min. headways on the 78 St. Andrews route. And the 80% cost recovery ratio? What a joke. So much for making transit a perfect alternative with that formula.

    Steve: My bashing of “conservatives” is of people whose whole mantra is that they never met a problem that a tax cut couldn’t solve, and that as few services as possible should be provided by the public sector. Their idea of “possible” and mine do not match. How would they do this? Sell everything they can lay their hands on to their friends in the private sector who can reap all of the benefits, keep only the profitable bits they really want, and let the rest go to the dogs.

    In many ways, I am a fiscal conservative: don’t spend what you can’t afford, and don’t get into unmanageable debt that destroys our ability to handle day to day expenses. However, I am a social liberal and believe that good fiscal policies will enable a wide range of social policies including good transit service. Spend wisely, and don’t cut just for the sake of doctrine.

    Tax based on demonstrated ability to pay and on the type of resources consumed, not based on the hypothetical value of property that is only realized if and when someone sells it. MVA was a scheme to screw the old City of Toronto and it is grossly unfair. However, not until the effects were felt outside the 416 did Queen’s Park actually do something, and the fundamental premise is still deeply flawed.

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  7. Once again the concept of “tax rate” is confused with “mil rate” (multiplier) in Mather Kemp’s recent post. “Tax Rate” should mean actual dollars paid and is not contingent upon the components that go into that calculation. Two similar sized properties, one in Oshawa and one in Toronto, would have vastly different CVA’s. [Assessments] Yet the “services” each consume would be roughly the same (actually less in Toronto where density allows services to be delivered less expensively). I am not sure if, at the end of the day, one or the other property pays more actual dollars. However, comparing the two multipliers is irrelevant to the discussion.

    As for “bashing”. I don’t believe that you have ever criticised anyone for being a “conservative” or a “liberal” or even a “populist”. It is the stupid ideas that each of these groups sometimes espouse that need to be bashed. As middle aged “social liberal” I currently support the NDP, but find some of their populist ideas and supporters impractical and stupid. They don’t want to hear that message and I find it quite humourous that I get portrayed as a kind of Mike Harris Fifth Column at times. However, I continue to believe that “You can’t redistribute the wealth if there isn’t any”. (Soviet Union achieved equality – everyone was equally poor.) In order to work together to make a just society, business must be able to thrive in a fairly regulated environment and taxpayers need to be treated equally fairly based on their ability to pay.

    Steve: Yes, I must say that if I hear Howard Hampton talk about “working people” one more time, I am going to scream. I am a “working person” although I don’t think at my income I quite qualify for the demographic he has in mind. Cities work because there are services for everyone, and there is political support to fund them. If you reduce a city to services only for the disadvantaged, there is no political base for any revenue tools, and the services become at best charities rather than vital parts of the urban landscape.

    By the way, lest anyone think I’m not pulling my weight on taxes, I am a tenant in a mid-60s apartment block, and the tax I pay through rent is not far off a decent sized house in North Toronto. Such are the wonders of “fair” taxation.

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  8. And we also believe that as well, Steve. Social services are needed for a proper society, fairness for public sector employees, (I have yet to seen proof that contracting out saves money) and money required to build a world class city. This city is not world class yet because for the simple fact there’s no money to invest into the city. As a conserative I can see many things we can trim off of the docket. But none that would affect the lifestyle of a city that I am so proud of for its openess and multicultural attributes. Bottom line is we are all so very frustrated. And on the record Mike Harris is a tool, in my view.

    Steve I believe in most bang for your buck, and I 100% back you in all of your views. I guess what I don’t understand is why build the overpriced Subway, when a high quality LRT will do. The province and the feds are so backwards it’s very sad. Even in the USA they are building high grade LRT, what’s our excuse?

    Steve, I want to be on your side for the fight, for better everything. Everyone who reads this must too. We have been pushed around for too long.

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  9. Steve said: “Municipalities around the 905 have raised taxes well above the rate of inflation to pay for the services they provide.”

    Why would municipal taxes be rising faster than inflation? Is it because of the provincial downloading? I understand that the City of Toronto work force in general has been declining over the last several years except for police officers, TTC drivers and new hires ordered by the province because of downloading. The downloading appears to be an on-going process which is now accounting for almost half of the new city hires. The city manager is not allowed to freeze provincially-mandated new hires.

    Steve: Part of it is downloading, part of it comes from the decline in revenues from development charges. When you run out of land where you can make lots of money upfront from developers, and then get new taxes from the new buildings, holding taxes down is easy. Once you have a substantially built up urban area, it costs more and more each year to serve that and the new income, such as it may be, cannot make up the difference. Once, like Mississauga, you are substantially full, and most of the city is too young to think about redevelopment, all cost increases must be borne by existing taxpayers.

    A related issue is that of infrastructure maintenance. When subdivisions are new, you put the water and sewer lines in the ground and forget about them. As cities age, the infrastructure (some of which was built by developers as part of their original construction) wears out and the city must pay to maintain and replace it. Either you pay that as capital repairs out of current dollars, or you borrow and pay interest.

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