When the TTC opted September 12 to raise fares by 15 cents (starting in November), the objections were predictable and moving. "For many people, a fare increase is going to come out of their food budget," said Judy Duncan of anti-poverty group ACORN.
But with city coffers tapped, the fare hike is a fait accompli, and detractors might have stayed home and sharpened axes for all the good their deputations did. TTC GM Gary Webster estimated 6 million lost riders due to the increase; but this was weighed against 20 million lost due to cuts if revenue wasn't found.
It's a funny thing, that word "lost." Riders don't just disappear. Many are people who will simply not go out. They're the poor and the elderly, isolated in homes, in the sprawling architecture of poverty.
And many are working folk who will clog the roads when they opt to drive. If you're going to pay through the nose, you might as well get a seat.
It's a funny thing about our economy. As wealth flows upward, downward pressure grows. The weight coming down from the province is passed through council, through committees and commissions, on to people.
And as the weight is passed on, so each time is the buck. So it's hard to know how to feel about the recent schism over community centre closures. I dare say any of the councillors who rail against closures should be supported and any of them who then vote against Mayor Miller's tax package in October should be shunned. For cowardice and hypocrisy.
If the city administration is guilty of anything, it's not of manufacturing crises: that's what council's free-marketeers hope to do once public investment crumbles a move right out of the Mike Harris playbook. No, the admin's offence is being altogether too calm.
Not that the rest of us are off the hook. Do we need garbage collection as often as we get it? Really? If we didn't, maybe we would buy less crap. Is there nothing we and our neighbours can accomplish locally without calling on the city bureaucracy?
People should push back at the TTC, at community councils. We'd be cattle if we didn't. And those bodies should push back at budget committee and council. And council should pass that push on the province. Ah, there's the rub. This is really hard. It's the nature of the system, we're told.
Well, it's the nature of the system that poor and working folk pay more and get less, subsidizing the rich with their labour and paying taxes to governments that subsidize owners with infrastructure. Yet the non-rich manage to push again and again.
The province has the money, we're told. Well, where did they get it? From us. So fund what's needed. Run an illegal deficit to do it. Would Ontario arrest the mayor? Dissolve city council and put it under supervision? Let them try.
My real dream? Merchants stop paying PST, diverting it to the city instead. Call it the TST. The accountants can tailor it so the amount clawed back by the city is equivalent to the cost of downloaded services, or to the real deficit (about a billion) between the province and us.
Or let's start with some real consultation. Not just "Hey, aren't subways awesome?" but a meeting of minds. Of allies. Sometimes you have to operate outside the bounds of the system to relieve the pressure it places on you. We need an activist council.
Whatever we do, let's ground ourselves in the reality that Toronto is a cash cow for the province.
"We're really having a debate about which of the poorest we're going to hurt the most," said Councillor Anthony Perruzza, who's on the TTC board. In addition to the land transfer tax, he said, "we're still going to have to go out and implement other fees, charges and taxes that disproportionately hurt the poor."
As the city moves to pass new taxes, he warns, the province will withdraw even more support from funding services. "We all know that. That's what we're really talking about here. At some point, I hope somebody steps forward and says this is not okay."