Queen’s Park’s Long Overdue Move on Fare Integration

The recently-announced Ontario Budget includes a lot of spending on transportation that transit riders in the GTHA can only hope to see delivered by whoever is in charge at Queen’s Park after the June 2018 election. Even though the budget is as much about vote-getting as about actual governance, it is worth looking at what the promised fare changes would bring if they are implemented.

From the press release:

  • Beginning in early 2019, the province is reducing the cost of GO Transit trips to just $3 for PRESTO users who are travelling under 10 kilometres anywhere on the GO network
  • All GO Transit and Union-Pearson Express trips anywhere within the City of Toronto will be reduced to $3
  • With proceeds from Ontario’s cap on pollution, the province will also provide fare integration discounts of up to $1.50 per ride for anyone who travels between the York, Durham, Brampton and Mississauga transit networks and the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), saving regular commuters up to $720 every year
  • PRESTO card users travelling on GO Transit between Union Station and stations near Toronto, such as Port Credit, Malton, Pickering, Ajax or Markham will see fare reductions.

As with any announcement, “the devil is in the details”, and I fired off a series of questions to clarify how this might all work. Responses came back from Metrolinx.

Q1: Regular GO Transit riders now enjoy a monthly cap of 40 fares on their travel. The 36-40th trips are at a discount, and from 41 onward, they are free. Will this apply to the new $3 fare? In other words, is there an upper limit of 40 x $3 = $120 to a rider’s cost of using GO within the 416, or is it open ended like TTC fares where there is no cap unless one buys a pass?

A: Details on this will be worked out as part of our implementation planning and work.

Q2: There are now co-fare arrangements between the 905 systems and GO, as well as between GO and TTC. If someone makes, for example, a YRT-GO-TTC trip, what discounts apply? Are the cofares cumulative?

A: YRT-GO Co-Fare, GO-TTC DDF. Yes, cumulative.

Q3: By analogy to Q1, if a rider makes a three-legged trip regularly, thereby becoming entitled to free rides for the GO segment after 40 trips, what happens to the co-fares? Do they still apply, or does the rider pay full 905 plus TTC fare in this case? The potential savings are “up to $720 per year”. Is this simply a calculation based on 20 commutes for 12 months, or will it be a capped saving?

A: Details on this will be worked out as part of implementation planning and work.

Q4: If someone has a Metropass (or its Presto equivalent), they are not entitled to the TTC-GO co-fare. Is it correct to say that their monthly cost would be the cost of the pass plus $3 times the number of GO trips taken within Toronto?

A: For adults, yes.

Q5: For clarity, is the $3 fare a flat rate even if riders transfer from one GO service to another, such as from Lake Shore to UPX, but stays within Toronto for their trip?

A: Yes as long as [the] individual uses the GO readers for their UP Express trip.

Q5a: If part of their trip is inside Toronto, but a second leg goes outside, does the $3 apply to the “inside Toronto” portion? Example: Rough Hill to Union to Weston is all inside Toronto, but Rouge Hill to Union to Airport is not.

A: Fares for any trips to and from Toronto Pearson Airport remain unchanged.

Q6: The co-fare for GO-TTC is relative to an assumed $1.50 per full adult fare with lower co-fares for those getting discounts like Seniors. Will the same apply to the 905-416 co-fare?

A: Details on this will be worked out in conjunction with the transit agencies.

In brief, the only thing that is nailed down so far is that discounts between each leg of a trip are cumulative so that, for example, a Miway rider travelling to a station within the $3 GO tariff zone and thence to a TTC route will get the Miway co-fare discount, the new low GO transit fare and the GO-TTC discount. Also, transfers between GO services do not attract another fare provided that the trip stays within the city.

Every thing else is to be “worked out”.

There are a variety of scenarios one can construct including the combined effects of bulk fares (passes) on 905 systems, the existing GO Transit monthly fare caps, and whatever co-fare/discount arrangements will exist. Anyone trying to work out the permutations has my sympathy. From the Metrolinx point of view:

The reason these changes will only be introduced in early 2019, is because Metrolinx needs time to work with our transit partners to ensure the various scenarios and all fare rules are in place. This budget provided Metrolinx with direction to move forward on fare integration. [Metrolinx email]

Leaving aside the question of whether the government in place for the 2019-20 budget will support whatever fare scheme Metrolinx comes up with, there are also obvious questions about the implications for service crowding and for possible changes needed in local route networks, mainly on the TTC, to provide better connections with GO stations. The lower fares may look attractive, but actually using the service could be challenging within Toronto.

  • On Lakeshore West, most inbound trains run express from Clarkson to Union with local trains only every half hour in the AM peak. The same arrangement applies outbound on the PM peak.
  • On Lakeshore East, there is a similar pattern with express trains skipping all stops from Rouge Hill to Union, and local trains running roughly twice/hour in the peak, albeit on an irregular headway. Some additional service is provided at Danforth (Main) and Scarborough stations by the Stouffville line’s trains.
    • TTC services in southern Etobicoke and Scarborough focus on the Bloor-Danforth subway, and actually reaching the GO stations (or using the TTC as a connecting service from them) is not easy.
  • On the Milton corridor, trains operate only in the peak period, peak direction although for someone at Kipling Station, the all-local service now operated would actually be better than what is provided at, say, Mimico on the Lakeshore West corridor.
  • The Barrie corridor and the Vaughan subway extension are in direct competition with each other, although service is far more frequent, especially during the off-peak, on the subway than on the hourly GO train, and the GO stations within Toronto are not well-served by the TTC network (other than the connection point at Downsview Park station).
  • The Richmond Hill corridor, like Milton, has only peak service, and its stations within Toronto are poorly served by the TTC.
  • The Stouffville corridor has all-day service with stations that potentially could connect with TTC feeder routes at Steeles (Milliken), Sheppard (Agincourt) and Eglinton (Kennedy). As on Lakeshore, the tradeoff will be for a faster trip bypassing the subway.
  • The Weston corridor is a special case because it hosts not only the GO Kitchener service but also the Union Pearson Express (UPX) trains which provide the most frequent of GO services within Toronto.

The fare reductions for trips from the near-Toronto stations in the 905 could shift some travel away from the subway, although few of the stations are well-located for this purpose. The Richmond Hill corridor is the most obvious of these, but the limited service there does not offer a lot to diverting demand.

As a follow-up question, I asked Metrolinx whether they had any demand studies to show travel patterns with the new fares, to the degree that these are known. Their reply is pending, and I will update this article when I receive further info.

It is well-known that the demand models are sensitive to three factors: trip speed, service frequency and fare level. This came out quite clearly in the background studies for SmartTrack and the Scarborough Subway where ST would succeed in drawing significant riding only if it operated frequently and cheaply, as originally touted in John Tory’s campaign. Just how many riders the lower GO fares, by themselves, will attract remains to be seen. A related problem, of course, is the question of train capacity if many actually shift to GO.

Not to be forgotten in all of this are the cross-border travellers between the 905 and 416 (in both directions) for whom a discounted fare will be a benefit. However, if this is only available to riders paying the full adult fare in each jurisdiction, this could undo the benefit now enjoyed by pass users who will not get any further discount. This would be particularly important if a pass holder took many “local” trips on the TTC in addition to cross-border trips into the 905.

In general, riders who already enjoy some sort of discount like seniors and students will benefit far less from the new tariff.

Whether any of this will come to pass is purely speculative at this point given the tenuous status of the current government and the well-known, vague bluster of their principal opposition.

Metrolinx (and by implication its political masters) have wasted years on pursuit of “fare integration” schemes that began with the premise of revenue neutrality to limit the government’s cost through added subsidies, and with the underlying view that distance-based fares were the end state at which they would aim. Had the option of added subsidy and reduction of short-haul GO fares been part of the mix a few years ago, the entire debate over fare integration could have taken a completely different path and a new tariff would already be in place.

Transit policy should arise from reasoned, open evaluation of alternatives, including those that may require an “investment” to make them work, not from a deathbed change of heart by an unpopular government facing defeat at the polls.

13 thoughts on “Queen’s Park’s Long Overdue Move on Fare Integration

  1. Curious how this will affect the GTA Pass, which I currently use. $63/wk for MiWay and TTC (or Brampton or YRT). Currently assuming $3/ride/service, it takes 21 trips (5 regular 4-trip days +1) to make it beat using Presto.

    Assuming $1.50 per TTC leg + $3 per MiWay leg, that means that the pass should come down to somewhere between $45-50 per week. Or have Presto cap it after 21 trips have been taken.

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  2. Yay! I live within an easy walk of Long Branch GO station.

    Some points:

    I assume that with a flat $3 GO fare within Toronto that fare-by-distance and different fares for ‘premium’ service are kind of on hold. (Although, with Presto, your TTC fare will be less than $3, but anyway.)

    Bicycles may become a key way to access GO stations within the 416. It’s hard and expensive to increase car parking if it’s even possible, and TTC service, as noted, can be poor. Unlike suburban stations that are often in industrial wastelands, many GO stations within the city are close to, or within, residential areas with good cycling routes available. But for some reason Metrolinx is not big on bicycle parking at stations (at least, that’s our local experience).

    I see the opportunity for fare arbitrage. Say I want to visit my friends in Whitby. I buy a $3 fare that takes me from Long Branch to Rouge Hill. Then I buy a separate fare from Rouge Hill to Whitby. This sort of arbitrage would work for anyone whose inside-416 leg costs more than $3 now. I wonder if all the fares will be adjusted in light of this.

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  3. It seems like, in principle, that fare-by-distance would be the most equitable end-state. Unless, as a society, you’ve decided that a uniform fare over the region is better (even though it encourages people to spread out). I mean equitable in terms of riders being fungible — a passenger-km is a passenger-km — not whether this penalizes people that live far away from jobs. ((Aside: I’m one of those people that doesn’t think it’s the *transit provider’s* job to subsidize users that can’t afford travel – let social service agencies (or school boards!) buy tickets in bulk and resell them at a discount (or give them away) to their constituents, but that’s not going to happen any time soon.))

    But if you do FBD, then you also need to consider speed – it makes no sense if you go to that model and end up with two people, with both people traveling 30 km (say) where they both pay the same fare but one gets on a train and gets off 30 km later (in 30 minutes) and the other has to take a subway, a streetcar, and two buses to go the same distance and it takes them 90 minutes. So the distance part is easily handled with a tap-on, tap-off system but how do you handle the speed, which logically should cost more? I dunno, I’m just musing.

    It sure doesn’t help to have multiple different service providers in a region. A single fare media helps (Presto, OPUS, Clipper) but people so often mistake fare *media* with fare *policy*.

    Here, it doesn’t seem people can even agree on what the end-state should be, though clearly Metrolinx thinks it’s FBD. Shouldn’t there be a “come to Jesus” meeting that sorts out what everyone wants the goal to be before they start tinkering with co-fares and discounts etc?

    Steve: There are a few interwoven threads in this article.

    What someone considers to be “fair” has a lot to do with whatever system is already in place and the degree to which they benefit, or not. This colours the political and “professional” debate because the starting points will be different depending on where one stands. A flat fare system might assist sprawl, but I think we have seen enough sprawl in areas pretty much bereft of transit (or where the only significant transit is a fare-by-distance GO train) to know that transit isn’t the culprit here. Someone who lives a long way out might resent the flat fare paid by others, but the problem becomes how “short” the flat fare district should be.

    The $3 fare creates a hybrid arrangement where everything within Toronto is one fare, but outside TO, anything under 10km gets the same treatment. This is not unlike the fare integration modelling they have already done, but with the overlay of recognizing that creating zones within Toronto simply is a non-starter politically.

    Speed of service has a value too, but we have built Toronto’s system around the idea that the subway is the high-capacity backbone and is an integral part of the base fare. This comes from the era when subway lines replaced busy streetcar lines over comparatively short distances. Toronto’s former suburbs used to be in “Zone 2”, including their subway stations, but the political decision to have one zone goes back almost half a century and the single zone is well entrenched.

    This brings me to another important point – the degree to which the total cost of one’s trip is subsidized. As a matter of public policy we recognize that transit is “a good thing” providing mobility for a wide variety of trips and their associated economic activity. One third of the average cost of a trip (operating budget) is covered by subsidy, and some trips receive a much higher degree of public support, notably subway extensions of the past two decades. Then there is the huge capital investment in the transit system which does not show up in your fare at all, but is borne through various governments and their respective revenues. If that were taken into account, the proporrion of the total cost of owning and operating a transit system would dwarf the fare revenue.

    As a quick example, the annual capital budget, not including system expansion projects such as the TYSSE or Scarborough Subway, is about a billion dollars mainly for system maintenance, and this is roughly equal to half of the operating budget. Then there’s the interest on the capital debt for past works, and the operating/lease payments to privately financed portions of the system.

    At the end of the day, the fares probably cover less than one third of the total annual cost of transit, and the rest comes from various forms of public subsidy. If we actually charged people proportionately to the cost of the infrastructure they use, the transit system would be a lot smaller.

    There is a “good” inherent in encouraging people to travel by transit both in space and resource consumption, and in providing mobility as a basic public service. This has a price, but it is one which collectively we pay just as we do for schools and hospitals.

    Much of the stalemate on fare structure comes from the artificial distinction between capital and operating funding policies and the need for each component of the network of operators to preserve their revenue and subsidy streams. Meanwhile, for political reasons, we take on huge capital projects that, were they subject to the same constraints as the operating budgets, would never get beyond the back of a bar napkin.

    The various discount arrangements come from Queen’s Park finally recognizing that it cannot make the regional system work properly if it will not come to the table with new money. Under the rubric of co-fares or cross-border discounts or whatever, the new money is targeted to the perceived trouble spots in the network rather than simply disappearing into a general pot of transit operating dollars. This is only possible now because with fare cards the discounts can be paid for specific types of travel.

    It is ironic that missing from all of this generosity is a recognition that Toronto is paying to operate a subway into York Region with almost no recompense, but an annual cost of $10 million. York may have helped pay for their portion of the TYSSE, but they get the day-to-day service free of charge. This is the reverse of the cross-border situation for the surface routes where riders pay two fares now, but will get a co-fare payment from Queen’s Park next year. Note that this is not extra operating money, only a preservation of the revenue streams for the 905 and 416 carriers while reducing the annoyance of an extra fare for riders. Extra service will be paid for only to the extent that new riding generates more revenue than the cost of carriage.

    This continues a wider trend where much attention is given to fare reductions rather than to service improvements, and the parallel to “lower taxes” is obvious.

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  4. Another thing that is on the drawing board is no longer having free parking at GO lots.

    Steve: I take that report with a certain amount of cynicism for a few reasons. Although there is reference in the updated Regional Transportation Plan (the 2018 version of “The Big Move”) to reducing the reliance on parking, this is sprinkled through the report and does not appear as a clarion call to a new way of looking at station access. In particular, Metrolinx is still wrestling with the “last mile problem” that is affected by local development near stations, the quantity of local transit service, and the suitability of a station’s catchment area to shift to a much higher proportion of access other than by the conventional drive/park model. The Globe’s article also notes that while less parking (relative to demand) is a goal, in the short term parking construction will continue.

    If GO cuts back on the provision of parking, its expansion will cease to hold the same attraction to its political masters especially those who think only in terms of driving to a station.

    Cutting back on parking is one of those noble goals, a potential shift in Metrolinx planning philosophy, but it will always be a future change, not one for today.

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  5. SmartTrack and Fare Integration

    One idea of SmartTrack “Fare integration” is that there be free transfers between the TTC and SmartTrack services. The current “negotiations” will define the actual fee structure. Is the fee structure is designed for fares to offset costs?

    SmartTrack is an added service and means an increase in costs. The City has agreed to pay the operating costs for the SmartTrack Go stations and a portion of the operating costs of the RER train service that represents SmartTrack.

    The current dual fee structure has passengers paying for both services separately. There are some passengers who use a Presto card who get a $1.50 discount over the combined rates. The discount cost is absorbed by Metrolinx. Toronto pays nothing to Metrolinx for the passengers who transfer to GO and gets full fare for the GO passengers who use the TTC. Metrolinx pays $1.50 for each TTC passenger who transfer to GO and the GO passenger who switch to TTC. If dual fee is adopted, Toronto would pay the operating costs for the GO stations but needn’t pay for any operating costs for running the trains.

    The flat rate fee structure would grant TTC passengers free transfer to SmartTrack and likewise for SmartTrack passengers to board TTC. Toronto costs would be the operating costs of GO stations and a portion of the operating costs of SmartTrack trains. These are major costs and would likely require an increase in TTC fares.

    This option has the danger of being a bad deal for Toronto. It is critical to know how many TTC passengers will use SmartTrack and if their use of it, justifies the total additional charge that Toronto has to pay. In addition to the operating cost of the GO stations and sharing the operating costs of SmartTrack, there is the new cost of the SmartTrack passengers who transfer onto the TTC (who currently pay the TTC full fare, and cost Metrolinx $1.50). If too few TTC passengers use the service or the additional charges are too expensive, then SmartTrack would be a bad deal. The TTC fare will increase because of these costs but not enough riders benefit.

    Metrolinx has less to lose. Costs of SmartTrack are charged to Toronto. Their only concern is to make sure the TTC passengers who transferred on for free, are restricted to SmartTrack and don’t get to ride the full GO network without paying for it.

    There are unknowns which make things less clear.

    A key factor is ridership. The City commissioned a study, by Dr. Miller, that concluded that ridership is affected by fare costs and frequency of service. He estimated ridership for SmartTrack service, every 5, 10 or 15 minutes. Currently Metrolinx is offering service every 15 minutes. He concluded that ridership at 5 minutes was four times more than ridership at 15 minutes. He found that ridership for flat rate fees was 2 to 3 times more than dual fee fares.

    Under the dual fee fare structure, there is little financial impact though ridership will be significantly lower.

    Under flat rate fee structure, in combination with 15 minute frequency, service will reduce ridership and puts in question the benefits of the fare increase for flat rates fares.

    Another significant unknown is how much Metrolinx charges Toronto for SmartTrack operations.

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  6. “This continues a wider trend where much attention is given to fare reductions rather than to service improvements, and the parallel to “lower taxes” is obvious.”

    We see right before our eyes a scenario where 50% of men and 35% of women (largest gender gap ever polled in Ontario) seem to be willing to believe that we can not just build a subway, but run a whole province with your proverbial “fairy dust”. The “people” have spoken and they do not want to pay a carbon tax, but unfortunately those same voices are not capable of magically banishing climate change. I want to pay a carbon tax, but according to some segments of our leadership, I and many others, are not part of the “people”.

    Conservatives are very adept at harangues against deficits (though they often hypocritically embrace them) because, they say, we are passing on our debts to our children or grandchildren. They are not so good at understanding the obvious corollary that is immoral to leave our children and grandchildren with an uninhabitable planet so that we can continue to squander energy without paying the full cost including environmental impact.

    Eliminating the carbon tax leaves an apparent 6 billion dollar hole in the budget that will not, we are told, result in a deficit (fairy dust again). While it is obvious that the $6 billion cannot really be sourced from “efficiencies” there is no telling about the carnage that will result as ideologically driven politicians make “strategic cuts” to at least pretend that they are trying. However, I want to put my bet on the square that says “cuts to transit”.

    On another note, I attended one meeting of TTC Riders. I declined to join and have not returned after I found out that one of their principal goals was to squander a portion of any government funding increase on across the board reduced fares. I can support an increased subsidy/farebox ratio, but the money should be spent on increasing service.

    Steve: I too disagree with an undue focus on fare reductions. We often hear that a “fairer” proportion of farebox recovery should be lower than the current 65% (roughly). Fine. So we take it down to 50%. The next year there is inflation and demand for more service. Do we continue to freeze fares? I have never heard a satisfactory answer to this.

    I am far more supportive of targeted improvements although some of those “targets” are the size of a barn, never mind the barn door. For example, if the “poor” are to be supported with lower fares (or some other type of subsidy delivery), then what is “poor”? Where do you draw the line, and what do you say to the groups who, inevitably, are excluded? They are not all fat cat Rosedalians. The “working poor” are often excluded from many social programs because they are well enough off to have an income, but certainly not swimming in spare change let alone accumulated capital.

    All that said, TTC Riders also campaigns for better service and for a more sensible rapid transit plan, but a good deal of their focus is on fares and this is only one part of a larger debate about where transit dollars should be spent.

    As you probably know, I am not a member of any “official” advocacy group and my opinions are my own, although I am happy to advise anyone who asks.

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  7. Steve, how would the $3 GO fare impact the Go Bus system? I can’t imagine current fleets and service absorbing demand for what amounts to a local express service.

    Steve: I don’t think Metrolinx has really thought about this, and the announcement seemed skewed specifically to rail travel.

    Unlike the SmartTrack scheme, which will add several stations within the 416, there is no corresponding addition of stops to the GO bus network. That said, they do provide some express services that could be attractive as an alternative to the TTC for people whose trips coincide with the GO bus corridors.

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  8. “As you probably know, I am not a member of any “official” advocacy group and my opinions are my own, although I am happy to advise anyone who asks.”

    I wish Metro Morning would “ask” more often. It brightens my morning when they do.

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  9. Hi Steve,

    Apologies if this was addressed in your questions to Metrolinx and I missed it, but… have they clarified if transfers between the TTC and GO will be free within the 416? It seems to me that while it’s a laudable plan to make GO trips within the 416 cost-equivalent to TTC trips, this is not actually the case if you have to pay one fare for the bus that takes you to the GO station, and then another fare for the GO train.

    Steve: The $1.50 discount will still apply within Toronto, and it will only be available to those who pay full adult fare via Presto. Passholders (including those whose passes are loaded onto Presto) will not get the discount as at present. The free transfer between carriers envisioned by SmartTrack does not exist yet, and will no doubt require some sort of City contribution. This is a detail that has not been worked out yet.

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  10. TTC is already improving some of the services to GO stations. The 190 bus has a new stopping pattern where it stops at the Agincourt GO Station. The transfer is still far from perfect. One would have to walk up a ramp and perhaps cross Sheppard Ave (depending on the direction). The accessible platform is also located very far from the TTC stop (closer to Marilyn Ave). For people needing accessiblity service, it is still quite a trek.

    Until Line 4 is extended both eastwards and westwards, using the GO 92 bus is a lot quicker. The running time from Scarborough Center to Yorkdale is only about 30 minutes. The same trip on the TTC would require using the 190 bus, Line 4 and the 84 bus and Line 1.

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  11. Steve: Transit policy should arise from reasoned, open evaluation of alternatives, including those that may require an “investment” to make them work, not from a deathbed change of heart by an unpopular government facing defeat at the polls.

    Well said, Steve. The Liberals have made a mockery of planning in general and transit planning in particular but hopefully, change is coming soon with the Liberals facing certain defeat.

    Steve: Not that I expect their replacements to be any better.

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  12. Anyone who thinks that Doug will deal benevolently with public transit needs to read up on the Harris administration. They cancelled the original Eglinton LRT, even though construction had begun. Along with their buddy Mel Lastman, they ignored the badly needed York U subway extension and built the useless stub line to Fairview.

    They also cancelled the east Harbourfront streetcar line and continued Bob Rae’s lack of expenditures on GO.

    They do all this in the name of tax savings. They are too lazy, and stupid, to actually plan for the future, which is fatal in such a rapidly growing area.

    Steve: The Eglinton line was to be a full subway, not LRT. The Rae administration was dumb as a post on the subject of LRT and preferred subways as a job creation program. My distrust of the NDP’s real interest in transit goes back a long way, and I don’t think any party at Queen’s Park regards transit as anything more than a big, construction-based pork barrel.

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  13. For all their sins, the Ontario Liberals have been the best of a very bad lot. GO, in general, works well, despite the growing pains one would expect from their recent rapid expansion.

    The Liberals go along with the Scarborough Subway and Smart Track because Toronto’s ‘leaders’ insist.

    John Tory is a tory, perhaps a well meaning one. His dithering is only a sample of the mess that will hit ALL Toronto traffic, if the not so well meaning provincial tories take over. Think about that while you’re parked in your Escalade on any number of Toronto ‘highways’!

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