Faced with the mayor's demand to cut its budget by 10 per cent, the TTC intends to do what no business would contemplate - stop its customer base from growing too much.
The TTC board endorsed plans to deter ridership growth Friday, even though demand for public transit is expected to reach record levels next year. By lowering service standards and increasing fares, the TTC predicts it will drive away millions of riders and save money needed to meet Rob Ford's request to shrink its budget.
"I'm not happy with this budget, but it's the best that we can do," said TTC manager Gary Webster. "There's no question that by lowering our standards we're going to drive customers away from our system."
The lower service standards, which will come into effect in January 2012, mean that while TTC trips will still reach an all-time high of over 500 million next year, the total will be 4 million less than initially projected. Those lost rides will allow the TTC to lay off 171 workers, saving $14 million. A further 311 TTC workers will be laid off in a separate staff review, and others will be offered a "voluntary separation package." The money the TTC saves by shrinking its workforce will go towards meeting Ford's demand for all city departments to cut their budgets by 10 per cent.
A final decision on a proposed 10 cent fare hike was deferred until December, but an increase in the cost of riding the Rocket appears inevitable.
"Well-planned, well-thought out fare increases are simply a reality and we need to grow up and be prepared to do that," said councillor Peter Milczyn, vice-chair of the board. "Some of the people who want us to provide better transit service complain that we want to increase fares. But you can't have both."
But in the short term at least, the TTC appears headed for worse service at higher prices, which is bound to anger the city's commuters. Ford ran on a pledge to run this city like a business, and asking customers to pay higher prices for shoddier service is hardly a sound business model. Out of all the increasingly unpopular service cuts the mayor has proposed, crowded, less-frequent buses is among those that will hit voters closest to home.
Meanwhile Toronto's gridlock problem, recently ranked the worst in North America, will only be exacerbated.
Transit expert Steve Munro spoke at the meeting on Friday, and called plans to discourage ridership short-sighted. "There is a need to move people around Toronto, and not providing that service has a cost economically to the city as a whole," he said. "This budget is a quick fix to save a few millions, but it's no policy, no vision for what Toronto's transit system should be."
Like other city divisions, the TTC board is hoping that in the coming years the province will chip in more money to public transit and lessen the burden on the city. But transit union leader Bob Kinnear questioned why the mayor has refused to endorse NDP candidate Andrea Horwath, even though she has promised to fund half of the TTC's operating budget.
"Could it be that the mayor's political loyalty to the Conservative party is more important than public transit in Toronto?" he asked.
Final decisions on the TTC budget won't take place until after the provincial election on October 6.
The board also voted Friday to defer a controversial decision to stop providing Wheel-Trans rides for dialysis patients. The move would save $5 million, but has been criticized as inhumane. TTC chair Councillor Karen Stintz said the board is working with the provincial government and the Kidney Foundation to find ways to avoid cutting the service.