With Toronto facing a transit crunch in 2012, there's division at the top of the TTC. A ten cent fare increase next year is a near certainty, but Thursday the commission's vice-chair Peter Milczyn confirmed he will introduce a motion at the TTC board next week to hike fares by 15 cents instead. Although the extra nickel could avoid proposed service cuts next year, TTC chair Karen Stintz says she can't support it.
For Councillor Milczyn it's a case of in for a penny, in for a pound. As it stands, the TTC is set to simultaneously raise fares ten cents and cut service on many of its routes next year. A 15-cent increase would raise $15 million and allow the city to avoid those service cuts, and Milczyn feels if the TTC is already making the unpopular choice to raise fares, it might as well increase them enough keep service at current levels.
"We're going to ask people to pay more for TTC next year. Pay more and get slightly less I don't think is as good an equation as pay a little more and get at least the same service," he said.
But Councillor Stintz says that the 15-cent increase would only be enough to delay service cuts, and she won't support it unless there's a long term plan to maintain service levels. That would mean an increased financial commitment from the city, and a sizeable contribution from the provincial government, which stopped funding the TTC in 1996 under premier Mike Harris.
"I think that asking riders to pay 15 more cents is not something we should be doing at this time, particularly because we cannot guarantee that even a 15-cent fare increase will preserve the service" in the long run, Stintz told reporters Thursday. "I believe a ten-cent fare increase is really about as high as we can ask our riders to contribute."
Stintz's concern is the TTC's sizeable capital budget shortfall, which stands at $800 million over the next 10 years. Fare hikes can prop up the commission's operating costs, but down the road there's no money to pay for the infrastructure and vehicles needed to meet growing ridership. She feels a 15-cent hike would be asking riders to pay for a bandaid solution.
Milczyn agrees that a long-term solution is needed. On Tuesday, he asked staff to look into the possibility of creating a multi-year funding strategy, which would see fare increases of at least 10 cents over the next three years, and commit the city to providing at least $404 million in subsidies over that same period.
Stintz would prefer an increased subsidy to raised fares, but she's already agreed to swallow the 10 per cent cut to the 2012 subsidy that was mandated by Mayor Rob Ford.
And while Stintz says the impact of a 15-cent increase needs further study, its immediate impact is understood. The $15 million it would raise next year is enough to avoid proposed service reductions that would hit 52 rush hour bus routes and 36 bus and streetcar routes during off-peak periods.
Instead, her disagreement with Milczyn appears to be largely political. While both councillors are aligned with the mayor, on the transit file, Stintz is seen as a closer ally to Mayor Ford, who has been reluctant to wear the political cost of fare hikes. Ten cents more appears to be as high as she's willing to go.
For a 15-cent increase to go ahead the TTC board, which is packed with Ford appointees, would have to override Stintz at its meeting next week. At least one board member, Councillor John Parker, said he was open to hearing Milczyn's argument.
Councillor Maria Augimeri, the only Ford opponent on the board, says she hasn't made up her mind yet but if she sees data that proves a 15-cent increase would keep current service levels, she would "seriously consider" voting for it.
Other members of the board did not return requests for comment.