Why Toronto Needs A Fare Increase

Back on August 19, The Star’s Tess Kalinowski ran an article about TTC fares including remarks from me advocating an increase.

Let’s get this straight: Pro-car Mayor Rob Ford has told the TTC it can’t hike fares to solve its budget problems. Meantime the city’s leading transit advocate is calling a fare freeze “madness” given the system’s operating challenges.

Streetcar crusader and transit blogger Steve Munro believes predictable, moderate fare increases are preferable to service cuts, given that the TTC is facing an $85 million operating shortfall next year.

“If they have a fare freeze this year on top of other cuts they’re contemplating, it will be disastrous … just at the time the system is doing so well,” he said, referring to the 15 million more riders the TTC is anticipating next year.

Politicians of all stripes are spooked by fare hikes, says Munro. By holding down transit prices, Ford is just repeating the actions of his predecessor, David Miller, who also pledged a fare freeze in 2009.

The article set off a storm of comments divided between those who feel that going to riders for more money is the wrong approach; those who take a hard line attitude that the problem lies entirely with inefficiency, poor management and union contracts; and those who agree, one way or another, with my position.

Heather Mallick picked up the topic in her column on August 22 arguing that fare increases hurt the poor who are more likely to pay using the most expensive fare medium, the single cash fare.

My position on fares has been quite consistent for years.  Service is the most important “product” the TTC has to sell, and if we compromise the ability to give good service to riders, we might as well shut down the system.  Fares are one component of the revenue tools available to the TTC, and by contrast with many other cities, Toronto’s fares are the main funding for day-to-day operations.

While we might play around with fare structures and subsidies, transit costs overall will rise through a combination of inflation, wage increases and system expansion.  Unless there is an endless supply of new money, or a decision to cap the scale and scope of transit service, fares cannot be frozen forever.

Politically we lurch from regime to regime with policy changes on funding for and the role of transit.  Many decisions take place in the context of improvements or cutbacks in previous administrations.  Reports going back decades recommend modest annual fare increases at roughly the level of inflation, but we never see this implemented.  Multi-year freezes alternate with big jumps in fares, and these are especially hard to sell when subsidy cutbacks force more of the load onto the farebox. Continue reading

Service Changes for September 4, 2011

Many service changes are coming in September 2011 including additional service on routes that are now overcrowded.  However, the TTC will be considering lower standards for crowding (the “there’s still room on the roof” school of service planning), and many of these changes could be short lived.  (I will turn to budgetary issues in my next article.)

The service improvements are the upshot of the bargain trading little used periods of service on some routes effective May 2011 for better service where it is needed.  The budgetary headroom from the May cuts is not enough to pay for all the needed additions, and many improvements that would other be justified by current standards will not be implemented.  That justification may vanish if the standards are lowered. Continue reading

What Mayor Ford Should Have Asked For

Wednesday, August 17, saw Rob Ford going up to Queen’s Park in a time-honoured Toronto tradition asking for money for the transit system.  I won’t go into much detail on this as you can (and already may have) read all about it in other media:

Marcus Gee in The Globe

Karen Howlett and Patrick White in The Globe

Daniel Dale in The Star (with a wonderful photo in which Ford appears to be channeling the subway gods)

Martin Cohn in The Star

Chris Selley in The Post

Natalie Alcoba in The Post

Mayor Ford’s dream of a subway paid for entirely by the private sector has evaporated.  Brother Doug Ford claimed on CBC’s Metro Morning in February that developers were just waiting to invest $5-billion in the line, but they’re not queuing up chequebooks in hand.  Desperation set in a few months back when even Ford’s hand-picked transit fixer, Gordon Chong, openly questioned the proposed financing.  Since then, any public sector funding that Ford could scrape together was thrown in the pot so that the private sector “ask” would drop by a billion or two.

Back in March, Mayor Ford signed an agreement with Queen’s Park (a document that has not yet been ratified by Council) in which Ontario takes over responsibility for an underground Eglinton line (at a cost of $8-billion or so, using up almost every penny of the Transit City money), and Toronto is on the hook for the Sheppard subway.  If there’s money left over on Eglinton, up to $650-million will be given by Ontario to Toronto.  Ford wants that money now, and fears that a Federal contribution of $330-million to the Sheppard LRT project will be lost if the Sheppard project doesn’t get on the rails soon.  He has also been after money from “PPP Canada”, a federal agency, but they’re a pesky bunch and want to see a business plan.

The Mayor came away from Queen’s Park empty handed, and Premier McGuinty made it quite clear that Ontario is in no position to advance funding for the City’s project until the true cost of the Eglinton line is known.

This has to be the biggest waste of a bilateral meeting in quite a long time. Continue reading

King/Bathurst Reconstruction Project (Update 8)

Update 8:  August 10, 2011 at 7:40 am:

Construction of the new safety islands has completed early, and the 511 is back to its normal routing.

Update 7:  July 26, 2011 at 8:00 am:

The TTC has revised dates for resumption of service through the intersection:

  • Wednesday July 27:  504 King and 508 Lake Shore routes return to King Street
  • Saturday July 30:  511 Bathurst route returns temporarily for Caribana
  • Tuesday August 2:  511 Bathurst route resumes diversion via Spadina
  • Monday August 15:  511 Bathurst route diversion ends

Update 6:  July 24, 2011 at 5:00 am:

An excellent overhead view of the completed intersection dated July 17 is available on Flickr.

Service on King Street through the intersection resumes on Monday, July 25.

Continue reading