On November 23, 2015, the TTC Board will consider its operating budget for 2016 including issues of fares and possible service improvements. The version of the budget before the Board was approved at the TTC’s Budget Committee meeting of November 9, 2015 with some amendments from the original staff proposal. The only recommendation related to fares was that the price of a Metropasses be frozen in 2016, but no other specifics. (I have already commented on the motions passed by the Committee in a previous article.)
The matter is complicated by the fact that the actual subsidy that will be made available to the TTC by City Council will not be set until early in 2016, and the TTC will compete with other agencies for available money.
(The 2016-2025 Capital Budget is also on the November 23 agenda, but it has not changed from the version discussed at Budget Committee.)
Although the Operating Budget report is long, it is better organized than the previous version with more detail, rather than depending on whatever questions might arise from a long PowerPoint slide deck and the skill (or lack thereof) of the presenter.
This budget is always a balancing act between competing forces and interests:
- A political imperative to “keep taxes down” and limit the growth of the TTC’s call on City subsidies from the property tax base. This often manifests itself in calls for “efficiency” year after year in the hopes that the TTC can do more with less funding in constant dollar terms.
- A political will to keep riders happy with benefits such as controlling growth in, or even freezing fares while providing more and better service. This includes targeted fare changes to benefit groups who are perceived to be more deserving of support through lower fares.
- Annual increases in the cost of labour, materials and utilities.
- The cost of additional service to handle demand from a larger population and a shift to transit from other modes.
In 2015, Council approved an extra $95-million for a number of improvements to service, elimination of the fare for children, and a capital-from-current purchase of 50 new buses to be used for new express routes in 2016. This increase only covered the part-year cost of the changes, many of which came into effect only in recent months, and additional subsidy will be needed in 2016 for the full 12-month cost. Additional improvements are on the table as part of the 2016 budget, and some of these were approved in the Budget Committee. The bottom line here is that improving transit has an ongoing cost and is not something to be done on a one year “feel good” program followed by a return to penny-pinching. Indeed, even that $95m might not have come to the TTC had Council been aware of unexpected costs from changes in Provincial funding arrangements for other programs that came to light after the extra transit money was announced by Mayor Tory and TTC Chair Josh Colle.