Updated December 16, 2019 at 5:30 pm
At its meeting today, the TTC Board approved the Operating Budget and fare increase without amendment. There were deputations on the subject of cash fares as well as the proposed expansion of the cadre of fare inspectors to reduce fare evasion. I have added a section at the end of this article address those issues.
Management’s presentation deck, which includes information on both the Operating and Capital Budgets is available on the TTC’s agenda page. It includes charts showing more detail about recent ridership changes, and these are now included in the postscript.
The TTC has released its proposed Capital and Operating budgets for 2020. These will be discussed at a special meeting of the Board on Monday, December 16 at 9:30 am in Committee Room 1 at City Hall (across the corridor from the usual room, CR 2, that the TTC Board uses). Note the early start time as there is no private session in advance of the public meeting.
This article primarily addresses the Operating Budget, and I will turn to Capital in a separate piece.
There has been a lot of TTC-related news and reports in the past year including:
- The TTC’s publication of a 15 year capital project forecast showing that the “cost of ownership” of the transit system is much, much higher than had been revealed publicly in past years.
- The provincial decision to re-neg on a planned doubling of the gas tax allocation to municipal transit systems.
- The provincial decision to retain ownership only of new rapid transit lines, and the concurrent removal from TTC’s financial projections of the need to contribute to new lines that the province will own.
- The TTC’s 5 Year Service Plan and 10 Year Forecast that gazes ahead to how the system might evolve over the next decade.
- Mayor Tory’s proposed additional levy to increase his City Building Fund, and related statements in the media about how the money this will finance might be used.
- The 2020 budgets just released.
With proposals and plans popping up from various agencies and political levels, it was inevitable that there are inconsistencies. Most notable is an emerging issue with whether the TTC will buy new vehicles, and at what scale.
The Service Plan shows projected growth in the streetcar, bus and subway fleets, and Mayor Tory speaks of the need for new vehicles as something that the City Building Fund can pay for.
[…] I am proposing to extend the City Building Levy further into the future to raise approximately $6.6 billion to invest directly in our transit system – including new subway cars, new streetcars, station improvements, and signal upgrades – and in building more affordable housing across our city. [Letter from John Tory to Executive Committee, Dec. 11, 2019, p 2]
At its regular meeting on December 12, 2019, the TTC Board heard a deputation from Unifor, who represent the workers at Bombardier’s Thunder Bay plant, urging that the TTC commit to buying more streetcars while the production line for them is in place, and also reminding the Board that this plant also produced the Toronto Rocket subway trains which the TTC needs more of in coming years.
However, the Capital Budget explicitly notes that there is no money in the “funded” part of the Capital Budget for anything beyond vehicle orders already committed. There are two problems here.
First, projects are only moved “above the line” with official status on the approval of Toronto Council. This policy was implemented years ago to prevent the TTC from committing to projects for which no money was available and/or which did not have support at Council. Second, although the City Building Fund will make more capital available, it has not yet been approved by Council.
Moreover, there is no sense of what either the TTC’s or Council’s priorities for this money will be. The TTC Board has asked management to prioritize its capital projects on more than one occasion, but nothing has come of this. To be fair to management, “priority” is a concept that moves like leaves in the wind in the political environment, and these decisions must, at least in part, be made by politicians who cannot fob off such decisions on staff.
What is needed is a list of “must have” projects that have first call on any available funding after which Council can wrangle over whose pet projects get first crack at the leftovers. Even deciding what is “must have” is fraught with political battles such as whether expansion of the streetcar fleet will doom suburban drivers to forever be stuck on downtown roads rather than driving above sleek new subways, or at least around “flexible” buses.
I will turn to this in more detail in the Capital Budget article, but on the Operating side there is an issue of great concern: all of the new funding that seems to be coming transit’s way is for capital projects, not for day-to-day operations. The TTC’s ability to expand service is constrained by the level of city subsidy the Council thinks is “affordable” in the context of pressure on taxes, on the level of fare increase (if any) that is politically tenable, and the rise or fall in provincial operating subsidy (which comes out of gas tax revenue).
The 2020 Operating Budget projects a rise in subsidy from the City of Toronto and higher fare revenue, but does not really address the backlog in service deficiencies across the network. The Service Plan, released only a week earlier, foresees no significant service improvements until 2021. The Service Plan claims that all services are operating within the Service Standards, while the Budget claims that there is a need for more service to address crowding. This is the hallmark of a policy framework changing on the fly.
There is a ten cent fare increase proposed for March 2020 that would apply across the board to Adult and to most concession fares. This has provoked a common response that fares are already too high and subsidies are too low, and in turn that ties back to the absence of operating funding in the proposed City Building Levy.
However, freezing fares brings new costs year by year, but no new service. Whether fares change or not, the City needs to have a long-overdue debate about its target for “good” transit service that amounts to more than building a subway to every Councillor’s house. A big frustration with higher fares is that riders see every day how service does not meet their needs both in capacity and reliability. Charging more for an inferior product is not good marketing.
The TTC, ever alert to wresting more fare revenue from passengers, plans to hire 50 more Fare Inspectors. It would be amusing to compare the cost and benefits of these employees to the effect of hiring 50 more operators to drive buses and streetcars.
TTC management, possibly at political direction, consistently fails to produce future year plans that show what a “growth strategy” would look like, and they are content with a plan that barely keeps up with population and job increases. More transit will cost more money. We all know that, but we do not know what can be achieved and at what cost. That was the goal of Mayor David Miller’s Ridership Growth Strategy, and more recently the system improvements proposed by Andy Byford over bitter objections from John Tory’s campaign team. If we do not know what could be done, and how this might be achieved, we will never try.