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