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.
Results for 2011 to April 30
The Chief General Manager’s Report presented at the TTC’s July meeting includes an overview of system performance. For the first third of the year, riding was running 5.5% over 2010 and was expected to be 3% ahead for the year overall. This may be a low estimate. Demand for the months of May and June was reported to continue at a strong level at that TTC meeting, but the numbers have not yet been published.
Some info can be found in Ian Robertson’s article in The Sun.
Fare revenue is also strong both because of the extra riding and because, on average, riders are paying slightly more than expected for each trip. This number is a blended value across all fare media, and if more people use the comparatively expensive cash or token fares, as opposed to passes, the average revenue per trip goes up. About $1-million of the $2.2m extra revenue comes from the higher average fare with the remainder coming from extra riders.
Although the TTC projects total revenues $7.3m higher than budgeted for 2011, this will be largely offset by rising expenses, notably for diesel fuel ($4.2m). Additional maintenance costs for Orion VII buses add to the problem ($1.8m), and greater-than-expected costs associated with additional service for construction projects accounts for the remainder ($0.8m). A small amount remains as a “surplus” ($0.5m), although this really means a reduction in the subsidy required from the City of Toronto.
The TTC’s total Operating Budget stands at $1.4359-billion, but final results will be higher at $1.4427b thanks to extra costs listed here. Fares and other revenues will total $1.0141b or 70.6% of total expenses.
Looking ahead to 2012
The City of Toronto is wrestling with an operating deficit that, depending on whose numbers one believes, ranges from $400+m to $774m for 2012. To some extent, this problem is an “own goal” triggered by a refusal to raise property taxes and TTC fares (among other potential income streams), and by the abolition of the Vehicle Registration Tax. All City departments and agencies have been asked to cut their anticipated City funding in 2012 budgets by 10%. For the TTC, this translates to a cut of $46m in the “conventional” system budget and $9m for Wheel Trans.
Leaving aside the dynamics of the Ford Administration’s desire to reduce the scope of City spending and programs, the fundamental point here is that unless there is some new, long-lasting source of revenue for the TTC, or Council politics shift sufficiently to restore the proposed cut, then the TTC will lose that $46m for 2012.
Moreover, costs simply to run the existing system are projected to rise by $39m leaving a gap of $85m. This does not include any provision for labour cost increases that will arise from a new contract, whenever it is settled or awarded by arbitration, retroactive to April 1, 2011.
Although Wheel Trans has a separate budget, it is a much more heavily subsidized operation than the regular TTC service, and this makes it even more vulnerable because it has almost no fare revenue. The 10% subsidy cut translates to $9m on top of a further $7m needed to address cost increases in 2011. There’s a good possibility that pressure to keep Wheel Trans funding whole may lead to an offsetting cut in the regular TTC budget, and this would have the difficult effect of pitting Wheel Trans riders against a range of users on route that would lose service. To put this in context, the $16m needed for Wheel Trans is roughly triple the saving achieved by route cutbacks in May 2011.
Various options will come to the TTC board at a special meeting on September
9 (delayed to the 16th), and some of these have already shown up as proposals in the City’s “Core Services Review” conducted by consultants KPMG. That report was a lazy approach to a TTC review. It took the simple route of using the Ridership Growth Strategy (a holdover from the now-hated Miller era) as its base and targeted RGS-related improvements for cutbacks.
TTC management estimated that if all of the RGS service improvements were rolled back (some of these were already cut in May 2011), there would be a saving of about $30m, and a further $50-60m could be obtained from a 25¢ fare increase. That figure is conservative and includes an allowance for some riding loss due to the combination of higher fares and service cuts. (25¢ would be a 10% bump in the token fare, and other fares would likely shift proportionately. A 10% jump in fare revenue would yield about $100m, but service cuts, especially those affecting peak period crowding, would offset the gain.
I mentioned the possible cut in peak loading standards in a previous article, and here they are again for refence.
Vehicle Type RGS Peak Pre-RGS Peak Offpeak Std Buses Low Floor 47 to 50 52 to 55 35 to 38 High Floor 51 57 36 to 39 Streetcars CLRV 74 74 46 ALRV 108 108 61
In short, rush hour buses would not be considered to be”full” for planning purposes until they had about 10% more people than today. This may seem small, but vehicle loads are uneven thanks to bunching, short turns, and variations in the demand at different times and locations. The crush vehicle capacity is higher, but the closer one comes to this loading, the more likely buses will spend extended times at stops trying to squeeze on “just one more”. Changes in bus design for low floors, and the increased prevalence of bulky items such as strollers and shopping carts further limit the achievable capacity of vehicles and the “standard” can be difficult to achieve. A 10% cut in service on the street would definitely mean more than a 10% cut in the quality of service as any regular system rider can attest.
On the streetcar system, there was no RGS change in the loading standard because there were no spare cars with which to address the need for more service. Moreover, the elderly streetcar fleet needs many more spares, proportionately, than the newer bus fleet. The longer we await a replacement fleet, the worse this problem becomes, although major rehab work on half of the CLRV fleet should provide some benefits.
Off-peak service standards are based on seated loads, and it’s no secret that there are off-peak standees especially on the busy routes. This has always been a standard that is observed, now and then, but not as rigourously as one would hope. Fleet availability is not an issue here, but the budget headroom to operate service is.
As I already reported, many routes are due for improvements according to the TTC’s own planning report, but won’t see any change because the TTC cannot afford to operate the service. Almost all of the affected routes and periods of service are outside of the peak when there is no problem with vehicle availability.
Whether the TTC will propose to cut off-peak standards and roll back, officially, to allowing service designs that will presume off-peak standees remains to be seen.
TTC peak bus service for September 2011 requires 1,487 buses in the AM peak. Although some routes would not be cut under a rollback (either because they run policy headways unaffected by demand, or because a cut to a lower loading standard would involve only a fractional vehicle), a reasonable estimate of the peak vehicle savings would be 120 (about 8%). Adding 15% for spares would mean a fleet reduction of about 140.
As part of RGS, the TTC added 100 buses to its fleet simply to expand service, and this would more than roll back that addition. Such a change would be implemented in the short term by retiring the oldest of the fleet, and in the medium term by deferring new bus purchases. This would also eliminate the need for one planned new bus garage.
One important point I have not mentioned is the question of riding growth. If, despite the City’s best efforts to throttle the TTC, riding continues to grow, this may further stress the loading standards and force some additional service. Indeed, the TTC already has plans for many service improvements in September 2011, and a few for October, within the limitations of the 2011 budget.
Other potential cuts include further reductions in marginal services following on from the May 2011 changes. A new de facto standard was introduced in that process whereby a service carrying less than 15 riders per vehicle hour would be eliminated. The analysis was done based on major blocks of service such as “Sunday afternoon” or “Saturday evening from 9pm onward”. This approach can yield problems with routes that might met the standard for part, but not all of the interval, especially at the start and end of the day.
Moreover, no walking distance standard was included. The TTC’s own design guidelines stipulate that:
… new transit services will be provided only if they would serve people beyond 300 metres of a service which is already in place (200 metres where there is a higher-than-average proportion of seniors) …
However, several of the May 2011 cuts produced parts of the city 2km square where the walk to a transit service would be well over 300m for many residents. This part of the existing standards was ignored, and I doubt we will see it revived for 2012 as this would trigger service additions in the very places that were just cut.
Finally, the expanded Blue Night Network was briefly a target for cutbacks, but this option has been rejected by TTC Chair Karen Stintz. Many night services carry respectable loads, and even the “baby night” routes that shut down for a few hours (such as 504 King), don’t do badly on their late trips. Some have proposed that these routes carry a premium fare, but this leaves all manner of questions about how the transition from regular to and from premium rates would be imposed, let alone enforced.
How Much Subsidy Does the TTC Get?
We hear a lot about a “fair share” for riders and governments pay to run the TTC, and this often ties back to the original William Davis subsidy formula of 2/3 farebox, 1/6 Toronto, 1/6 Ontario. There’s nothing magic about those proportions, and as is often noted, that’s a comparatively stingy subsidy relative to other major cities and countries. Rarely have we actually achieved those numbers, and the farebox share rose to over 80% as Queen’s Park walked away from its role as a transit funder.
In 2011, based on projected year-end numbers, the proportions will be 66.1% farebox, 4.2% other revenue, 23.5% Toronto, 6.2% Ontario.
A small amount of TTC revenue comes from other sources totalling about $60m in 2011. Of this, about $20m comes from advertising. This is expected to grow under a recently signed new contract, but the total dollar value will still remain under 2% of the TTC’s funding needs. The new contract presumes a growing pervasiveness of advertising on the TTC, although there is a limit to how much can be sold and how many “eyeballs” are available to absorb the material.
Many have noted the degree to which space on TTC vehicles is filled now with public service and in house advertising. Just because you have the space doesn’t mean you can get more money for it.
Ontario sends about $160m in gas tax to Toronto, of which $90m goes to the operating subsidy and the rest to capital. By contrast, in 1990 the provincial subsidy was $100.9m, or roughly $150m in constant dollars.
Subsidies present two problems for planners and for governments. Whenever any public expenditure (seen as a line item in a budget) goes up by more than the rate of inflation, this attracts attention and criticism for “out of control” spending. However, transit systems face two pressures on their total budget: inflation and size of operations. Leaving aside the question of appropriateness of pay levels, there will always be cost increases in labour and materials. On top of this, system growth adds to the number of riders who are carried at a net loss relative to their fares. The result inevitably is that total costs go up by more than the rate of inflation.
When times are tough and governments don’t want to support this level of increase, they must constrain costs and/or limit the expansion of service in response to demand. The latter may work in the short term if the system has “excess capacity” (however that might be defined), but there is a point at which this tactic is counterproductive in the face of rising demand.
Planners may be asked to give multi-year budget projections, but the last thing they want to show is an organization whose budget grows by, say, 6% annually when inflation runs at a much lower number. Many government services face this problem with costs driven both by inflation and by growing demand, but simplistic answers are all taxpayers are willing to hear.
Governments also prefer to target their spending based on previous years, not on a measure of what is actually needed. In a situation with a hard linkage between fares, subsidy and total expenses, this can produce an artificially constrained budget. If Queen’s Park says they will contribute $1, and the City matches this with $1, and the formula dictates a 2/3 rider share, then we know that the total will be $6 no matter what. The TTC may need more service and more revenue, but politics dictate that governments are seen to be holding up their bargain. This is a catch-22 for riders who can get better service only by paying a higher proportion of the total cost.
Freezing Fares as Social Policy
Over the years, I have often heard that fares should be frozen because some riders cannot afford to absorb additional transit costs. This was Heather Mallick’s argument, although she is far from alone in her position.
This issue comes up particularly forcefully after a period when fares are frozen for a few years, and a large catch-up increase is imminent.
The problem with a freeze is that it benefits everyone: those like me who can afford to pay for transit use (although I limit my costs with a Metropass subscription), and those who scrape together the money for a few fares each day. Moreover, a freeze penalizes the transit system by reducing its revenue. Yes, “efficiencies” may be found to limit expenses, but this cannot be done year after year. Just to keep pace with inflation and riding growth, some extra costs must be incurred, and fares from new riders are unlikely to compensate.
On the rare occasions when major new routes such as a subway extension open, there are new costs, but certainly not the extra riders to generate compensating revenue. Unless fares or subsidies rise, the cost of major new routes must come from other operations. This makes lines like the Sheppard or Spadina extensions problematic because without new revenue, their net cost of operation must come from other, existing parts of the system.
A fare freeze begs the question of the “fair share” riders will pay and the corresponding subsidy from governments. If user fees (fares) are frozen, but subsidies rise to cover new costs, the farebox share will gradually fall, and the subsidy increases will run above inflation levels. This is a recipe for cutbacks when economic or political circumstances will no longer support low or zero fare hikes.
What is “Good Service”?
When people talk about how much slower transit is than just about any other mode of transport, the discussion always turns to service, but what, exactly, do we mean by this?
Definitely vehicles should show up when we want them, preferably with only a slight delay — arriving just after one gets to a stop, rather than leaving just before, would be ideal. If we do miss one, the next one should be along soon, and in a predictable amount of time. There should be room to get on and ride reasonably comfortably, maybe even get a seat. Buses and streetcars should actually go where they claim, and outer ends of routes should not have to suffer from frequent short turns to maintain headways in the central sections.
All this is very nice, but my “frequent, convenient service” is someone else’s waste of taxpayer dollars. There are at least two parts to this problem.
First is the question of reliable service. The single biggest improvement the TTC could make to surface operations is to have vehicles arrive on something vaguely like a regular headway. However, we hear lots about “traffic congestion” as the root of all evil, even though irregular service can be found at times and locations when “congestion” doesn’t exist. I won’t belabour the question of service management covered in many other articles, but the TTC, despite the ability to track all of its vehicles, still frustrates riders with ratty headways and short turns.
This has spinoff effects including crowding, frustrated riders and operators, and a sense that the service is actually much worse (as experienced) than it is on paper (on the schedules). The problem, of course, is that if vehicles are unevenly loaded, more riders are on the full ones, and the “typical” experience is much worse than the “average” reported in route reviews. Cutting service because some cars and buses are half-empty does little to address the problem.
A very simple example: If there are two buses and two riders, but they are both on the first bus, they have a completely different experience than the zero riders on the second bus who, of course, count for the average load (1 rider per bus), but not for the average experience (2 riders per bus). The higher the load and the greater the disparity, the more likely that the now-full bus will contain many unhappy riders and a grumpy operator, while the nearly-empty bus will sail along with a few happy, seated passengers. On average there will be a seated load, maybe a handful of standees, but that’s not the result you would get if you talked to the “average” rider who is on the packed-full bus.
Managing service so that vehicle capacity is actually provided on an even basis is the single greatest problem for transit systems, but the effort buys useable capacity at relatively low cost.
Next comes the question of policy headways and hours of service. The TTC now runs almost all routes no less frequently than 30 minutes, and part of the Transit City Bus Plan would have established a core set of routes that route never have headways over 10 minutes. Until May 2011, all routes operated from at least 6am to 1am, but that ended when the most lightly-used were cut back leaving some wide gaps in access to transit service while saving less than .5% of the total operating budget.
Calls for cuts to the Blue Night Network have been rebuffed by some on Council, but I’m sure we will see another attempt. I will be intrigued to see whether consistent standards are applied to services at 3am and at 11pm.
Running service that will never be full is a fact of life on some transit routes, and it costs money. If you happen to use one of these routes, you will fight strongly against cuts, but to many others, your route may simply be something we can’t afford. When we look beyond transit in the 416 and think of a surface network extending seamlessly into the 905, our idea of “acceptable” service may take a beating.
Service standards must be set and maintained at some level, although some will argue that the standards we have now are too generous. Maybe so, but if we cut the standards for 2012, what will we do for the budgetary problems of 2013 and beyond? Will transit at new standards become so intolerable that it will lose whatever political support it now has? Will only fantasy transit networks of subways criss-crossing the city attract interest?
Changing the Fare Structure
When fare increases are proposed, many respond with debates about alternate fare structures. Such a debate is long overdue, but it avoids the central point: someone is going to pay more so that someone else can pay less. A fare increase may be bundled with a restructured tariff, but this could undermine the acceptability of the new scheme.
There is a good parallel in the change to time-of-use billing for electrical power. This was implemented at the same time as the change in taxation on hydro bills, and moreover, once the new rates were in place, they were not revenue neutral. A rate increase was buried in the new tariff. A good idea — encourage off-peak use by charging less — was compromised by an implementation that served the purpose of raising revenue overall.
Creating a “fair” fare structure, given all the dimensions that might be considered in evaluating that term, is just about impossible.
First off, any social justice aims have nothing to do with how far or how long someone travels on the transit system. If we decide that people of reduced means should pay less for transit, then we need some way to provide them with service at a reasonable price. Some groups, such as seniors and students, are presumed to deserve a discount regardless of their actual financial situation. That’s a policy decision. Indeed, if they (or those who support them) have significant income, then they will pay taxes that in a roundabout way will come back to transit subsidies.
Many low-income groups cannot be identified by some characteristic such as “all people with blue eyes”, and this brings us to the wider problem of social subsidies. If they are to receive lower transit fares, this must be administered outside of the transit system. Transit passes can be administered along with other social programs, but they have a catch-22 depending on how recipient’s income stream works. Someone who gets all of their income at the start of the month may be unwilling to shell out for a transit pass, even a cheap one, but prefer to take a chance that single fares will be cheaper. Moreover, there is some debate over how much the transit system should be paid for such a pass by an agency that might resell it at a discount to a client.
This is not a simple problem, but whatever solution might be used, we must agree that such a subsidy is both required and worthwhile as social policy. It is pointless going through the exercise of creating a new fare structure and then doing everything possible to limit expenses by thwarting would-be users. (One might make similar comments about Wheel Trans.)
Other fare schemes include the re-imposition of zone fares or some type of fare-by-distance calculation, time-of-use fares so that peak trips cost more than off-peak, and time-based fares so that a token might buy two hours of riding. Each of these has benefits and implications. Moreover, the discussion is heavily weighted to the concept of a granular fare that is charged per trip, rather than a bulk fare (e.g. a pass, or a fare card with a capped total charge per week or month).
Zone fares were eliminated in Toronto forty years ago when the whole business of transit subsidies by the then Metropolitan Toronto Council were quite new. The old “zone one” comprised a semicircle bounded on the south by Lake Ontario, and drawn from the Humber River in the west, through the City Limits at Yonge south of Hoggs Hollow (York Mills) and down to the Scarborough boundary at the east end of Queen Street. All of Etobicoke and Scarborough, and much of the other suburban boroughs (as they then were) lay in “zone two”.
The result was that radial trips from a suburb into the city cost about 60% more than a trip entirely within one fare zone (although the service in zone two was such that “local” trips were much less likely especially if a transfer was involved). The outer suburbs were not yet developed, and ten-digit telephone numbers, let alone the population they represented, were unheard of. (There was a time when some calls within what is now “the 416” were long distance.)
Zones based on radial travel are impractical in a region where the biggest market for new transit riders is not oriented to a core area on which the zones can focus. Various schemes have been discussed in comment threads here before involving smaller checkerboard zones and rules for how far one can travel across a zone boundary. Such complexities vie with the simplicity of a distance-based fare, but the problem for either scheme remains how to charge for service and validate that the correct fare is paid.
Time-of-use fares may encourage off-peak riding, but this presents two problems. For some riders, changing their commuting hours is not practical because of scheduling at their job or school. This particularly affects those who make long journeys because they have to offset their entire trip by a much longer time than someone whose commute is short. (If the discounted off-peak fare depends on the start time for a journey, then a long trip must start much earlier in the morning. At the end of the day, there is the reverse problem of leaving work very early or arriving home very late just to get the discounted fare.)
For the transit system, there may be a decline in peak demand, but there will also be an increase in riding on the shoulders when service may already fall to mid-day or evening levels. If service does not adjust to handle this demand, exhortations to time-shift one’s journey will fail. Again, this problem particularly affects longer trips which may, in part, occur after the peak service has ended.
Time-based fares, in effect a short-term pass, are simple to understand, although they tend to benefit riders whose trips involve stop-offs, or who make many short trips within a brief time period. This benefits certain riders, and has the attraction of being simple to understand, but its implementation requires a change in the way that “transfers” are issued unless there is a move to smart cards.
New fare schemes are also aimed at regional travel, the “cross-border” issue of paying a double fare to travel short distances. This is no different than the old complaint about zone two in Toronto where riding past Humber Loop, across Bathurst & Lawrence, or across Eglinton & Don Mills would incur a zone fare. Getting rid of that invisible line also involves changing the fare someone pays.
All of these have their benefits and their difficulties, and address perceived inequities for various groups of riders, but they do not address the fundamental question of how much riders, as a group, should pay for the provision of transit service. Implementing a single fare medium such as Presto while maintaining the existing tariffs uses an expensive piece of technology to avoid the fundamental question about how much we should charge for travel.
Premium Fares for Premium Services
Another variation on fare schemes involves premium fares. These have been suggested for night buses and for the subway, but nobody has quite explained how to make them work. Many night routes have quite decent riding and meet or better the minimum standards applied to day service. They are “premium” only in the minds of those who presume that they are expendible.
As for the subway, the Toronto network is designed on the assumption that the subway replaces surface routes rather than being a fast, but higher-priced alternative to them. Yes, a system like Presto could charge different fares for different routes, but having the capability doesn’t mean we should actually implement it.
Those of us who live close to downtown have the option of travelling on surface routes or on the subway, but those who come longer distances do not. Do we really want to impose a city-wide fare increase on those who have no choice?
GO Transit charges substantial fares, but they are not out of line with what TTC fares would be on a mileage basis. The one missing factor is the ability to transfer to the TTC at a low marginal fare such as that provided on some 905 transit systems.
The TTC does not publish ridership or cost data for the “premium express” buses, and we have no way of comparing their performance as routes to others that could be on the chopping block. These are peak only, peak direction routes carrying riders a considerable distance and using vehicles that are generally not able to provide other peak period services. That’s the most expensive kind of bus operation one can have. Whether these are cost effective even with their premium fares, compared with other “regular” routes, is a mystery.
Subways do cost a lot to run, and the newer lines have low riding and low station usage compared with older parts of the system. The standard for subway service is a five-minute headway from 6:00am until almost 2:00am regardless of demand, and this is completely different from the standard applied to surface routes. It’s no wonder that people want lots of subways built with this kind of service. Should riders pay more because politicians have chosen to give them a premium service quality? Why is a decision to run good subway service treated so much differently from bus and streetcar lines where a half-empty vehicle is scorned as inefficient and its riders as pampered while almost empty subway trains roll unseen beneath the streets?
The structure of the network, and the common fare charged for most routes, has evolved in Toronto for decades. Charging more today for parts of a network that were, in good faith, approved and built in a unified network would be counterproductive and could trigger an unwanted migration of demand to a surface network that cannot handle the increase.
Labour and Management “Efficiency”
I have deliberately omitted much of this discussion because it’s really a separate debate. We can argue about whether operators are overpaid, but even with some form of wage controls, their pay will settle at some new level. Yes, it could be frozen or limited to rise slower than inflation, but that tactic would eventually leave the TTC unable to recruit staff. There’s also the small matter that we have declared TTC workers “essential” and left their wage negotiation, at last resort, to arbitration. Although the legislation suggests that an arbitrator should consider the “ability to pay” by the employer, this is not the same as the “willingness to pay”, a far more common problem for taxpayers and politicians.
The “sunshine list” of employees making over $100k contains exactly 100 TTC operators for 2010, and 14 station collectors, out of a pool of roughly 5,000. That’s a function of overtime, not of the base pay which is $29.05 per hour, or an annual rate of about $60k. This is a good wage, but not as stratospheric as some like to believe is common. Many crews involve more than 40 hours’ work per week, and split workdays are common. Nine-to-five jobs are unknown.
Automated fare systems will transform the work of collectors, but they won’t be eliminated, only replaced by roving security staff. Indeed, the TTC has no intention of eliminating all fare media other than Presto, and it is unclear when the collectors will be truly obsolete.
Service management is an always-burning question on the TTC and, as I said earlier, the cheapest additional capacity would come from more reliable service. Whether the TTC can or will attempt to manage its service better, especially in the face of cuts to funding and staffing, is another matter. Any efficiencies will delay cost increases for a time and may provide better service if the “savings” are reinvested rather than scooped as a budget cut.
The City of Toronto isn’t going to give more money to the TTC, and will probably give less than in past years. Queen’s Park is cutting back, and this will be even more severe if the Conservatives gain power as they have already proposed a redistribution of gas tax revenue and overall cuts in spending. The Liberals focus on capital projects, and show no signs of addressing operating costs. At most their benefit could be indirect by uploading of other costs now borne by the City’s budget that would make room for better local transit funding. The NDP offers more subsidy, but at the cost of a fare freeze that would eat up much of their proposed funding while contributing little to better service.
Meanwhile the price of fuel continues to rise, transit riding grows, and everyone clamours for better transit service. They just don’t want their taxes to go up.
Toronto really must have an intelligent public discussion about transit financing, service delivery and quality, and whatever formula this eventually yields, fares will be part of it. So will subsidies, and governments should stop fooling taxpayers that there is a magical way out of this problem.
We can rail against TTC and say “no more”, but that’s exactly what we will get as — more crowded vehicles, routes that fall off the map when they don’t meet increasingly strict loading standards, and a transit system that forces more and more people to own, maintain and drive their own car, the exact opposite of the goal any self-respecting city should pursue.
[Apologies for the lengthy absence of new articles here. This article has been in the works for over a week, but I have been distracted by other events. I could wrangle this text more, but feel it’s time to push it out the door and let the remainder of the debate flow in the comments.]